Home > Uncategorized > Elite Colleges and State Flagship Universities Drop SAT, ACT and Their Applications Soar and Transformative Change Might be Possible

Elite Colleges and State Flagship Universities Drop SAT, ACT and Their Applications Soar and Transformative Change Might be Possible

January 30, 2021

Washington Post writer Nick Anderson reports that applications to elite colleges and the flagship state universities are soaring because they have dropped the requirement that applicants submit their standardized test scores. He writes:

The pandemic has given huge — and in some places, decisive — momentum to a movement to reduce or even eliminate the use of admissions testing at highly competitive colleges and universities.

That, in turn, has lured more applicants to the upper tier of the market.

U-Va. and Harvard were among a large bloc of schools that temporarily suspended their requirements for SAT or ACT scores because the public health emergency prevented many college-bound students from taking the exams.

While the length hiatus on the submission of test scores varies from school to school, the impact on application rates is unquestionable… and given the need for these colleges to quickly sift through a higher pile of applications the most likely data point admissions offices will use is the GPA, making the grades students earn in high school even more important.

While the increased number of applicants to top tier colleges is heartening, there was some bad news in the applicant pool this year:

There was also a 2% dip in applicants with enough financial need to receive fee waivers, and a 3% drop in those who would be among the first in their families to go to college.

Jenny Rickard, president and chief executive of the Common App, said she was “very concerned” about those declines.

As one who worked in school districts with a large number of students who would qualify for financial aid and be the first in their families to attend college, this is not surprising. In those districts guidance counselors often spent lots of time and energy encouraging students in that demographic to apply and persuading parents that enrolling in college was not a “waste of money”. This was a bigger problem in the late 1970s when male students could often get relatively high paying jobs “working in the woods” in Maine and working in factories in the suburban Philadelphia district where I worked. At that time, many of the families were still uncomfortable with the notion of their daughters pursuing post-secondary education for anything other than nursing and teaching… a belief that was diminishing somewhat by the late 1980s.

Mr. Anderson quotes the heads of the SAT and ACT as being unconcerned:

The College Board, which owns the SAT, said it supports “flexibility in admissions during the pandemic.” The rival ACT takes much the same position.

“I think a lot of schools are going to stay test-optional,” said ACT chief executive Janet Godwin. But she said research shows that “higher ed still does see value in scores for a whole bunch of reasons.”

Testing, she said, helps colleges connect with potential applicants and vice versa. She said she worries that many students might miss out on opportunities if they don’t take an admission test. Access and equity, she said, are “the driving force behind everything we do.” About a quarter million students are registered for the ACT’s next test date on Feb. 6.

Their brave faces might be a front given the SATs decision to abandon several so-called achievement tests and the long term prognosis that indicates an increasing skepticism about the value of the test scores a predictors of success in college.

Mr. Anderson DIDN’T interview one organization that will clearly be at a loss: the US News and World Report whose ratings are deeply rooted in SAT scores. If both the reliance of standardized tests and the rating systems based on those test scores disappear, it will help transform education in a way that could be revolutionary. With no means of sorting and selecting based on a single test, schools will have to fall back on examining the strengths and weaknesses of each student as an individual…. and with the recent use of computer technology to “personalize” education we could see an end to the divisive practices that result from using test scores to sort and select. THAT would be a real transformation for the better.

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