Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Jun 12, 2020

The California Institute of Technology (which typically reports freshman SAT/ACT scores at the very highest percentiles among US test-takers) has announced that it will not consider SAT/ACT scores for the next two application cycles. Caltech's website covers the policy change.


Caltech has enacted a two-year moratorium on both the requirement and consideration of SAT and ACT test scores as part of the undergraduate admissions process. This change, made in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and its continuing impact on access to these exams for students across the country and globe, will be in effect for all first-year students applying to Caltech for Fall 2021 and Fall 2022.

Caltech's undergraduate admissions process has traditionally required students to submit SAT or ACT test scores to be eligible for admission. The Institute had already announced the elimination of the SAT Subject Test requirement in January 2020.

"We are facing extraordinary times, and students' pathways for college application preparation have been substantially disrupted," says Jared Leadbetter, professor of environmental microbiology and chair of the freshman admissions committee. "The events of the spring have impacted all prospective applicants. This is the time to show them as much support and compassion as we possibly can for matters that are entirely out of their control."

Caltech's Undergraduate Admissions Office has updated its first-year admissions requirements to emphasize the increased attention that will be paid to curriculum and academic preparedness in lieu of test results. "Evaluations of applications during the two-year moratorium will continue to thoroughly examine academic preparedness from the secondary school level up through enrollment," says Jarrid Whitney, assistant vice president for student affairs, enrollment and career services.

The University of Washington (with 48,000 students and ranked by US News at no. 62 among National Universities) has announced that it will permanently adopt a test optional policy at its Seattle campus.


The University of Washington has removed the requirement of standardized test scores, such as the SAT and ACT, for incoming undergraduate students beyond the fall of 2021.

The requirement had already been temporarily removed for the fall 2021 incoming class due to the lack of available testing sites in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

UW admissions officers have studied results and outcomes for several years and found standardized test scores have little correlation with success at the UW, particularly for Washington residents. The change will allow applicants to focus instead on taking a rigorous, college-preparatory high school curriculum, which more directly correlates with success at the UW.

“The UW is dedicated to creating opportunities for the most promising students to learn and discover how they can make an impact,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said. “Careful analysis and research showed that standardized testing did not add meaningfully to the prediction of student success that our holistic admission process already provides.”

The change takes effect immediately for the Seattle campus. UW Bothell and UW Tacoma will be reviewing their standardized test score policies.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Brennan Barnard and two co-authors considers "Will The Pandemic Revolutionize College Admissions?"


Now what? That’s the question on the minds of soon-to-be college applicants who have been building toward this moment for years. Many have focused relentlessly on grades, standardized tests, resume-building and other perceived necessities of getting into the “right” school. Now comes a global pandemic: Classes have been modified or cancelled, with grades thrown into confusion; extracurricular activities have disappeared; and standardized tests have been demoted because of the difficulty of taking them. Has the familiar—and often excruciating—admissions gauntlet suddenly become obsolete?

Admissions officers are certainly asking this question and so are college presidents and trustees. It remains to be seen how schools will assess, attract and enroll applicants in this extraordinary application season, how they will know if it’s working and how it might change the longer-term, much-debated dynamics of admissions. The disruption of the pandemic has created a real-life laboratory on a nationwide scale. Colleges will be forced to rely less on methods of evaluating students that were already under the critical spotlight because of the recent Varsity Blues scandal.

More schools are considering options that formerly were employed only by their more adventurous peers. These include outsourcing the review of student performance to third parties, deploying new assessments that ask questions meant to gauge hard-to-measure “non-cognitive” qualities such as grit and curiosity, and even using artificial intelligence to sort through the new complexities of applications. Applicants may find themselves being asked for a wider array of recommendations and evaluations (including self-evaluations), samples of school work and unrehearsed responses to prompts in live video interviews.

“Everything has been reimagined,” says Angel Perez, vice president at Trinity College and incoming head of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “Schools will be discussing everything from how to evaluate transcripts without tests to how to gauge a student’s level of interest [in a college] during a pandemic.”

Marten Roorda is out as CEO at ACT, Inc. ACT has also announced cost-cutting measures. The College Board is also experiencing upheaval due to testing cancellations, and has experienced significant problems re-registering students who were unable to sit for scheduled tests.

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed has the story:


The ACT on Thursday replaced its leader and announced plans to cut costs. The College Board on Thursday and Friday opened registration on its fall schedule for the SAT and quickly encountered problems.

ACT announced that Marten Roorda was being replaced as CEO by Janet Godwin on an interim basis. Godwin has been at ACT for 30 years, most recently as chief operating officer.

Roorda arrived at ACT in 2015 after serving as CEO of Cito, a testing organization in the Netherlands.

During his time at ACT, Roorda was more public in expressing his views on issues that could help or hurt ACT than were his predecessors. Just last month, he sent a long letter to the University of California Board of Regents in which he urged it to reject the advice of Janet Napolitano, president of the system, to phase out the SAT and the ACT. The Board of Regents unanimously voted for Napolitano's plan.

Meanwhile, the College Board was attempting last week to open registration for the fall SATs. The College Board wasn't attempting to open registration for all students, but for those who were registered and unable to take the SAT in the spring and those who don't have any SAT score. Nonetheless, there were problems, according to college counselors.

Cristiana Quinn of College Admission Advisors, in Rhode Island, posted to the National Association for College Admission Counseling Listserv (and granted permission to reprint here), "Last night, students tried to register for the SAT (after being given instructions to do so as preferred kids who’d had prior tests canceled) only to be met with repeated technical problems, bouncing them out of the system and not allowing them to register. Families spent hours trying … I’m sure school counselors are hearing the same this morning from their kids," she wrote.

Quinn continued, "Honestly College Board, this is just too much. Among all the other usual issues annually … during COVID we’ve all ridden the wave of CB incompetence with students taking AP tests only to not be able to submit them, and then be told they’d have to take them again. We put up with March test kids who were canceled not being given priority for registration. And now this???? … I never thought I’d say this, but enough is enough. These tests need to go … across the board. There is just too much incompetence and it’s causing kids too much added stress."

When her students managed to get through (on Friday), Quinn said that many were too late for all but November or December test dates. "Too late" for early action or early decision, she said.

Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said via email, "The College Board's failure to have sufficient backup capacity in place to deal with the long-predicted surge of pent-up demand for SAT registrations demonstrates a clearer lack of aptitude than any of their standardized exam could possibly measure. The test makers flunked a basic performance assessment even though they knew what task they would have to perform well in advance."

The College Board has abandoned (at least for now) its floated proposal to administer SAT tests to students at their homes, The New York Times reports:


The College Board said on Tuesday that it would postpone plans to offer an online version of the SAT for high school students to take at home this year, further muddying a ritual of the college application process that had already been thrown into chaos by the coronavirus.

After canceling test dates this spring, the board announced in mid-April that it was developing a digital version of the SAT to be introduced if the pandemic continued to require social distancing in the fall, which would make it hard for the nonprofit organization to provide enough testing dates and centers.

But in its latest statement, the board said the technological challenges of developing an online test that all students could take had led to the decision to drop it. Some 2.2 million students took the SAT last year, the College Board said.

“Taking it would require three hours of uninterrupted, video-quality internet for each student, which can’t be guaranteed for all,” the board said, acknowledging the technology gap facing lower-income students, which could further exacerbate inequities in access to higher education.

The organization added that it would continue to deliver an online version of the SAT at some schools, but would not “introduce the stress that could result from extended at-home testing in an already disrupted admissions season.”

Bob Schaeffer, the head of FairTest, which is opposed to the use of standardized tests in college admissions, said the College Board was “simply conceding the inevitable.”

The SAT’s rival exam, the ACT, said on Tuesday that it still planned to offer a remote option in the fall.

Janet Lorin writes in Bloomberg that the "SAT and ACT May Never Regain Their Role in College Admissions":


Coronavirus has shattered the spring rituals of college admissions this year, with tours canceled and standardized testing dates scratched off the calendar. The campus tours will resume someday, and the SAT and the ACT will be administered again – but the stakes of those once-feared exams may be lower.

Almost 200 schools – including some of the most selective, such as Amherst and Williams colleges and Ivy League member Cornell University – have scrapped the requirement for standardized test scores at least for current high school juniors, acknowledging the chaos of lockdowns. Last week, the mammoth University of California system, one of the largest in the U.S. with almost 300,000 students, said it would suspend its testing requirement until at least 2024.

Still, it may be too soon to declare the demise of admissions testing, said Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, a nonprofit that has led the “test optional” movement for 30 years.

“My best-guess forecast for the near- to mid-term future is that the ACT and SAT will continue to be administered to substantial numbers of students,” Schaeffer said. “Some students will opt to take the ACT/SAT in the hope that a high score will improve their chances of admission.”

Many students in the years ahead will probably take one of those exams before they have decided where to apply, said David Rion, college counselor at the private Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut. “I don't think they can get around it,” he said. That is, unless students know they will be attending a public school in their home state that drops it, he added.

Waiving the requirement is no small change. “It opens the door for a really big shift in how admission selection processes work,” said Whitney Soule, Bowdoin's dean of admissions and student aid.

Admissions offices will have a challenge ahead. Many high schools switched to pass-fail grading for the final grading period of this school year, blurring a key chapter on students’ transcripts that would have helped colleges decide whom to accept. Colleges that dropped the test requirement will have even less information.

“It's an odd pivot,” said Nathan Kuncel, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota who specializes in the predictive validity of standardized tests and who has worked with colleges on admission practices. “It's going be a blind spot they'll have to deal with.”

That may be why California’s 10-campus system, which includes the prestigious Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses, is not entirely leaving the standardized-test game. UC President Janet Napolitano said the system she leads is developing its own alternative to the SAT to allow applicants “to demonstrate their preparedness.”

Penn State has joined the large number of colleges dropping the SAT/ACT requirement) for the current admissions cycle.

Another Scott Jaschik article offers more opinions about the University of California's decision to phase out use of the SAT and ACT in its admissions practices.


The University of California Board of Regents voted 23 to 0 to approve President Janet Napolitano's plan to phase out use of the SAT and ACT over five years and to replace them with a new test to be developed by University of California faculty members.

The vote followed a five-and-a-half-hour discussion about testing and admissions. Many regents quibbled with parts of the plan but in the end supported it.

John A. Pérez, chairman of the board, said that the vote represented a choice of "slow-walk or create urgency" in efforts to promote equity at the university.

Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest: The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said, "The impacts of this decision will be both profound and far-reaching. The UC system includes several of the world’s most respected public higher education institutions. California is the largest single state market for undergraduate admissions exams. FairTest expects many colleges and universities now in the process of evaluating their own admissions testing mandates to heed the message from California and adopt ACT/SAT-optional policies."

The College Board issued a statement that said, "Regardless of what happens with such policies, our mission remains the same: to give all students, and especially low-income and first generation students, opportunities to show their strength. We must also address the disparities in coursework and classrooms that the evidence shows most drive inequity in California."

With all the recent test optional announcements, it is fair to ask if the adoption of these policies will actually result in a decline in the aggregate number of students taking the SAT/ACT, or in the total number of tests taken (the latter also encompasses how many times individual students take each test, or take both tests). The 2018-2019 testing year was the first since 1995-96 with fewer combined SAT+ACT test-takers in the annual reports than the year before. The 2018-19 figures were down 1.1% over the previous year. Obviously, the current testing year will show a sharp decline due to the widespread disruptions and test cancellations.