Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Jul 16, 2021

In-state residents of Illinois will no longer have to submit SAT/ACT scores to the state's public colleges and universities due to the passage of a new law:


The state of Illinois has joined Colorado in passing legislation that requires its public universities to permit students to choose whether they submit ACT and SAT scores when applying to public colleges and universities in the state.

The Higher Education Fair Admissions Act, which applies to all public universities and community colleges in Illinois, states that those institutions “may not require applicants who are residents of the State of Illinois to submit standardized test scores to the institution as a part of the admissions process, and the submission of standardized test scores to the institution shall be at the option of the applicant.”

The measure was signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker on Friday. It was sponsored by State Senator Christopher Belt (D-Swansea) and house sponsor LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis). It received overwhelming support in the legislature, passing 109-8 in the House and 45-9 in the Senate. It goes into effect on January 1, 2022.

“Standardized tests are not what universities need to rely on when accepting students,” Belt said. “This necessary transition away from test scores will benefit those students who have the capability to be accepted into Illinois’ universities, but may struggle with test anxieties.”

Colorado passed similar legislation in May, adding momentum to the movement away from the use of standardized tests in college admissions that has been sweeping the country.

Forbes covers an open letter by 11 organizations that urges US News to drop standardized test scores from its college ranking calculations.


Several higher education policy and advocacy groups are calling on U.S. News to end its practice of using average SAT and ACT scores of incoming students as part of its annual rankings of America’s best colleges.

The call comes in An Open Letter to The Editors of U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges Rankings, which can be read in its entirety in a blog published today by New America, the D.C.-based think tank. The letter was initiated by New America’s Higher Education Team, which has a well-established history of raising concerns about both standardized admissions tests and the harmful consequences of college ranking schemes.

Acknowledging that the U.S. News rankings have “been the leading college rankings publication for years, and its impact on consumers and institutions alike cannot be overstated,” the group contends that because the pandemic has made it “difficult if not impossible for many to take the SAT or ACT” and because an increase in test-blind and test-optional admissions policies makes it difficult to compare institutions on the basis of test scores, institutions should no longer be rated using such metrics.

The letter concludes, “As Best Colleges continues to be influential in the decision-making process for students and families, there needs to be more integrity in the data inputs and methodology and a good start would be removing the average SAT and ACT score category from the rankings methodology. We are not the first, nor will we be the last, to criticize this practice. But with the many challenges students and colleges have faced during the pandemic, removing standardized admissions test scores is simply the right thing to do.”

Among those signing the letter were a number of organizations that have long advocated for greater and more fair access to higher education, including FairTest, USC’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice, Ed Trust, uAspire, NACAC, The Institute for College Access & Success, Institute for Higher Education Policy, The Hope Center, Student Voice, and Young Invincibles.

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed has further details about the call upon US News to drop SAT/ACT scores. [Note: for many years, US News weighted SAT/ACT scores as 8.125% of its overall 100-point ranking metric, but dropped that weighting to a shade below 8% a few years ago, and to only 5% last fall in response to the widespread adoption of test optional policies.]


U.S. News counted average SAT or ACT scores as 5 percent of the rankings last fall.

In June 2020, U.S. News said that it would rank test-blind colleges (those that will not look at SAT or ACT scores in admissions), but its announcement had little impact last year because of the magazine's use of the previous year's SAT and ACT averages. And the magazine has not said how it plans to include those colleges, which include the University of California system, in its annual rankings going forward.

A spokeswoman for U.S. News declined to comment on the open letter.

Stephen Burd, a senior writer and editor with the education policy program at New America, said that problems with rankings go "far beyond" the way they are based on test scores. But because "U.S. News rankings aren't going anywhere," it's important to start somewhere.

Angel B. Pérez, CEO of NACAC, said the group was just asking U.S. News to do what it said it would do in 2008. He said that NACAC has asked U.S. News three times previously to drop test scores from the magazine. He said that, in response to the request in 2008, U.S. News said that it would change its rankings if a "meaningful" percentage of colleges dropped the SAT/ACT requirements.

U.S. News did indeed publicly commit to doing so -- "If a meaningful percentage of colleges drop their SAT or ACT requirements for admission, then U.S. News will change our ranking model. So far, that is not happening," the magazine's website said in 2008 in response to a NACAC report.

The vast majority of colleges that were not already test optional switched to test-optional or test-blind policies last year during the pandemic. Although some colleges switched for only a year, many have since extended their policies to be for at least two years.

Politico has published an op-ed by Sheryll Cashin, a law professor at Georgetown University titled, "Why Colleges Should Ditch the SAT—Permanently":


Colleges today face relentless legal challenges to affirmative action, pressuring them to keep refining policies to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion on their campuses. The norm-shattering Covid-19 pandemic did something unexpected: It turned higher education, for a year or more, into a national experiment in admissions reform.

At a time when many college aspirants could not travel to testing sites, nearly three-quarters of colleges and universities, including Harvard and many other top-ranked schools, made the SAT or ACT optional in 2020. Several institutions have extended these policies for another year or more. The chancellor of Vanderbilt University, Daniel Diermeier, told me in a public question-and-answer session that Vanderbilt, for example, is extending its test-optional policy for two years and plans to study the results.

This could represent a major turning point for American higher education. Before the pandemic, numerous colleges, including Bryn Mawr, Bucknell University, Smith College, the University of Rochester and Wesleyan University, had made standardized test scores optional. The University of Chicago was the highest-ranked school to do so, with the goal of removing barriers to applying and increasing representation of first-generation and low-income students. The pandemic put many more schools, at least temporarily, into this camp, and experts are watching to see the real-world impact.

Now that one of the largest, most esteemed public university systems in the United States has agreed to stop using the ACT or SAT to admit students, other large public systems could face similar pressure. And California will soon be able to offer the rest of the country lessons in how to evaluate merit fairly in a high-volume context, without test scores. The pandemic experiment only adds to this momentum.

While we don’t yet know the full results of the great pandemic test-optional experiment, emerging evidence from the past year and previous studies of test-optional schools suggest that making entrance tests optional — permanently — is good for higher education and for students. It expands the applicant pipeline, brings more racial, ethnic and economic diversity to campuses, and raises the aspirations of students residing on the tough side of American inequality. Institutions typically claim in their mission statements to be educating future citizen-leaders who will contribute to society, but standardized tests aren’t good predictors of such behavior. Instead, they reify existing wealth and structural advantages. Schools should be encouraging, rather than excluding, excellent students who are not wealthy and face barriers.

Aside from a direct impact on college admissions decisions, SAT/ACT scores have traditionally been used to determine which students will receive college scholarship funds, and the amount of the awards. The state of Michigan recently acted to remove standardized test scores from the public college/university scholarship award process:


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill Thursday that removes requirements for students to complete ACT or SAT tests to receive scholarships.

House Bill 4055 amends Michigan’s competitive scholarships act of 1964 to allow scholastic achievement as a deciding factor in awarding scholarships instead. The law previously required certain ACT or SAT test scores to determine who was eligible for scholarships.

Neither of the standardized tests were readily available over the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I can’t imagine trying to navigate applying for college and financial aid as a young adult in the midst of a global pandemic,” said Democrat State Rep. Sarah Anthony of Lansing, who sponsored the bill. “Students should not be punished for impossible circumstances outside of their control.”

Ryan Fewins-Bliss, Michigan College Access Network executive director, said the removal of standardized test scores for scholarships will help more students achieve a college education.

“Equitable financial aid is an important step toward ensuring all students in Michigan – especially low-income students, first-generation college-going students, and students of color – have the opportunity to attend college,” he said.