Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Dec 24, 2021

Harvard has announced an extension to its pandemic-induced test optional policy. The New York Times offers coverage of the news:


Harvard will not require SAT or ACT scores for admission through the next four years, extending a policy adopted during the coronavirus pandemic and adding fuel to the movement to permanently eliminate standardized test scores for admission to even the nation’s most selective schools.

Harvard attributed the move, announced on Thursday evening, to the pandemic, which has made it hard for students to get access to testing sites.

But the decision has strong symbolic value, as it telegraphs that Harvard believes it can wade through thousands of applications and admit students without the aid of standardized test scores. It also signals that the university — and perhaps the nation — is one step closer to abolishing test scores from the admissions process altogether.

“Students who do not submit standardized test scores will not be disadvantaged in their application process,” William Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid, said in a statement. He encouraged students to submit “whatever materials they believe would convey their accomplishments in secondary school and their promise for the future.”
Harvard’s use of test scores has also been part of a lawsuit accusing it of discriminating against Asian American applicants by holding them to a higher standard than other prospective students. The lawsuit said that as a group, Asian American applicants scored higher than others on measures like standardized tests but were penalized by a subjective “personal” rating.

A federal court and an appeals court have upheld Harvard’s admissions process, finding that it was not discriminatory, and the Supreme Court is now considering whether to hear the case.

The current admissions cycle is the second for which students have been able to apply to Harvard without standardized test scores. The new policy would extend that to the next four classes, through the classes of 2027, 2028, 2029 and 2030, beyond the foreseeable boundaries of the pandemic.

Bob Schaeffer, head of FairTest, an anti-testing group, said that Harvard’s prestige and outsize influence made the decision more significant, and that it could be a harbinger of a future in which standardized tests would play a much smaller role in college admissions, or even no role at all.

“This proves that test-optional is the new normal in college admissions,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “Highly selective schools have shown that they can do fair and accurate admissions without test scores.”

The percentage of schools that do not require test scores has risen from about 45 percent before the pandemic to nearly 80 percent now, according to FairTest, or 1,815 of the 2,330 schools counted by the organization.

Nick Anderson of The Washington Post provides more insight into the Harvard announcement:


Coming from one of the biggest names in higher education, the extension announced Thursday evening likely presages similar actions elsewhere to lengthen or solidify test-optional admission policies that arose amid the public health crisis. The movement nationally, with most highly ranked schools on board at least temporarily since spring and summer of 2020, appears to be at a tipping point even as debate rages about the value of the tests.

There is a profound shift underway in how competitive colleges and universities from coast to coast sort through applications and choose an incoming class. The admission tests have not vanished, and perfect scores of 36 on the ACT and 1600 on the SAT retain their power and allure. But test scores are no longer an automatic data point in application files at most prominent schools, a major departure from the situation less than two years ago.

Harvard left open the possibility that a testing requirement could resume for fall 2027, but the chances of that happening could diminish with each passing year. Many colleges and universities are now running what amounts to a multiyear experiment to learn whether test-optional admissions process can diversify classes while upholding educational standards. That includes Columbia and Cornell universities — also Ivy League institutions — which have both suspended testing requirements through the classes entering in fall 2024. Already, schools have learned applications can spike and admission rates plummet when scores aren’t required. Harvard’s admission rate this year fell below 4 percent.

More than 90 percent of schools on U.S. News & World Report lists of top 100 liberal arts colleges and top 100 universities nationwide are not requiring scores for admission this year. That finding comes from a Washington Post analysis of data from FairTest, a group that supports the test-optional movement. Hundreds of lesser-known schools also have dropped score mandates.

“We’ve concluded that test-optional is here to stay,” said Janet Godwin, chief executive of the ACT testing organization. Godwin said she believes many colleges still want scores to help decide admission and scholarships, and many students want to take the test to show off their academic potential. “People ask me all the time, ‘Is this an existential crisis for ACT?’ And my resounding answer is, ‘No!’ … In our point of view, more information is a good thing.”

Counselors say the choice to send scores or not has also become a major stress point. Regardless of what Harvard or any other college says, many students and parents don’t believe there will be no penalty for applying without a score. It can be devilishly hard to know whether certain scores would be considered excellent for a given school or merely adequate — or, worst of all, harmful to chances.

“The kids just look at you and say, ‘Are you sure?’” said Sean P. Burke, a counselor at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Northern Virginia. “The unknown is what really gets under their skin. It’s just added another layer of like, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t know how to handle this.’”

Burke said he helps students check publicly available score ranges for colleges and the high school’s own internal data on college application results. Often it’s a no-brainer to send the scores, he said. But sometimes students say they feel “really uncomfortable” about doing so. Then Burke advises: “Okay, let’s not submit them.”

In the incoming class of 2021, about 1.5 million students took the SAT and about 1.3 million took the ACT. Compared to the previous class, the totals plunged 22 percent for the ACT and 32 percent for the SAT because of the pandemic. But officials say test-taking is rebounding.

Akil Bello has written an article for Forbes titled "After 50 Years, The University Of California Is Done With The SAT Experiment". The article examines the University of California's decision to abandon the use of SAT/ACT in admissions decisions.


Last week, University of California (UC) provost Michael Brown brought to a close not only a two-year but a five decade “experiment” into the use of aptitude and achievement testing in the admission process. According to the Public Policy and Higher Education Center at UC Berkeley, in 1960 the university began “a series of experiments” to determine whether “(1) the test improved prediction of freshman grades; (2) it could be used to assess grade inflation; and (3) it could be used to help manage enrollment growth.” After 50 years, the University seems to have concluded that the answer to at least two of those is no.

During this admissions testing experiment period, the importance of the tests have varied. From 1968 to 1977, the SAT and three SAT Subject Tests (then called Achievement Tests) were irrelevant for any applicant with a GPA above a 3.1 but required for those with a lower GPAs. This policy gave way to an eligibility index which had a sliding requirement for those with GPAs between 2.78 and 3.29. In 1992, the Subject Tests were removed from the eligibility index. Subject Tests were added back in 1999, this time for all applicants, and weighed twice as heavily in the index as the SAT or ACT.

The constant changes to not only the eligibility index but also to the tests themselves, which had at least 5 major revisions since 1968, support the decision to conclude that the experiment has been tried . . . and failed. No matter what version or what weighting is given the test, the most consistent benefit has been for the children of the wealthy, college educated parents. California public universities overall do a better than average job admitting and enrolling low income, first generation, and under-represented students, however those students are consistently channeled into the least resourced campuses of the system. First generation college students comprise 74% of UC Merced students while UCLA, which rejects 88% of its applicants, is only 31% first gen. UC Berkeley and UCLA enroll the lowest percent of Pell-eligible students, while UC Riverside and Davis enroll the highest. This outcome seems antithetical to a public institution focused on creating opportunities for all Californians. Ending the use of testing will not only reduce one obstacle to equitable access but will influence students and colleges around the country.

The UCs testing policy has long been a driver of industry behavior. The adoption of the SAT by the system in 1960 was followed by other public universities. In 2001, when then-President Richard Atkinson proposed that the UCs no longer require the ACT or SAT, the College Board responded by redesigning the test. That time the tests earned a reprieve. This time, the UCs have not just indicted the SAT and ACT but admission testing in general. If the most influential public university system not only found the SAT and ACT lacking but also did not see any viable alternative test, what universities will be able to logically justify requiring them?

Fifty years ago, the UCs began an experiment and after all that time doesn’t have definitive proof that testing has added valuable information to the prediction of who’ll succeed. Twenty years ago, Dr. Atkinson said, ''I concluded what many others have concluded — that America's overemphasis on the SAT is compromising our educational system.''

Dr. Atkinson added that the SAT was ''not compatible with the American view on how merit should be defined and opportunities distributed.''

Ending the SAT experiment is not only the right thing, it's long overdue.

The LA Times looks at UC's decision to not only abandon the use of SAT/ACT, but also to give up the prospect of replacing the tests with either an existing test such as Smarter Balanced, or to create a new admissions test.


The University of California has slammed the door shut on using any standardized test for admissions decisions, announcing Thursday that faculty could find no alternative exam that would avoid the biased results that led leaders to scrap the SAT last year.

UC Provost Michael Brown declared the end of testing for admissions decisions at a Board of Regents meeting, putting a conclusive end to more than three years of research and debate in the nation’s premier public university system on whether standardized testing does more harm than good when assessing applicants for admission.

“UC will continue to practice test-free admissions now and into the future,” Brown said to the regents, during a discussion about a possible alternative to the SAT and ACT tests.

Testing supporters argue that standardized assessments provide a uniform measure to predict the college performance of students from varied schools and backgrounds. But UC ultimately embraced opposing arguments that high school grades are a better tool without the biases based on race, income and parent education levels found in tests.

Given UC’s size and influence, the prolonged debate was closely followed nationally as a harbinger of the future of standardized testing in admissions. Its decision to permanently drop testing requirements is likely to embolden other campuses to do likewise and accelerate the national movement to seek more equitable ways to assess a student’s potential to succeed in college.

“When you have the most prestigious university system in the nation’s most populous state functioning without test scores and developing ways to do admissions fairly and accurately without them, it’s very significant,” said Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “UC already is and increasingly will become a national model for test-free admissions.”

It’s unclear how many institutions will remain test-optional beyond the pandemic. And UC’s decision does not spell the end of SAT and ACT testing in California. Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second largest school district, still administers the test to its high school students and counselors advise them to take it to maximize opportunities to apply to other colleges.

But the issue is now definitively settled at UC.

In the wake of UC's decision to abandon use of SAT/ACT tests, California State University may soon implement a permanent test optional policy:


California State University, the largest four-year university system in the nation, is poised to drop the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement — a move that would follow the University of California’s elimination of the exams and further shake up the standardized testing landscape as hundreds of campuses across the nation shift away from the assessments.

Cal State Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said Wednesday he supports scrapping the test requirements after a systemwide admission advisory council approved a recommendation to do so last week. The Board of Trustees will review the recommendation in January and vote on it in March.

“I’m very supportive of that,” Castro said of eliminating testing requirements. “I just want folks to know that I am not interested as chancellor to make it harder for students to get into the CSU.”

A move by Cal State to drop the SAT and ACT requirement, coming after UC regents voted to do so last year, would put California in the vanguard of a national movement to eliminate standardized testing because of concerns over bias and to seek more equitable ways to assess a student’s potential for college success.

The Cal State system, which educates 486,000 students on 23 campuses, has suspended admission testing requirements for the 2022-23 academic year. But the system’s Admission Advisory Council, which is composed of faculty, students, campus presidents, other top administrators and enrollment leaders, has been studying what to do after that and approved a recommendation to permanently end the testing requirements.

Robert Keith Collins, Academic Senate chair, said council members approved the recommendation after months of “vigorous debate” over the potential impact of eliminating testing requirements. They considered pandemic-related hardships, equity and fairness, academic preparation, graduation goals and extensive research on standardized testing and college admission, according to an executive summary of the report. Collins added that council members studied UC’s Academic Senate research on the issue and spoke to faculty about it.

Janet Lorin of Bloomberg examines the long-term impact of the recent abandonment of test requirements in an article titled "Colleges Embrace a Post-SAT Future":


High-school juniors applying to Stanford University can stop studying for standardized tests. The school isn't requiring them. Columbia University said last month it won’t require scores from students who are now sophomores or juniors, joining Cornell University and Amherst College. And the 280,000-student University of California system has declared no testing for all freshmen who may apply to its 10 campuses.

The Covid-inspired movement that freed high-schoolers from the all-encompassing dominance of the SAT is rippling through higher education and likely to persist beyond the pandemic. “Left on our own, I think we'll go the way of the University of California system and either be completely test-optional or as far as score-free for a long time to come,” said Jonathan Burdick, who oversees enrollment at Cornell, where three of the seven undergraduate colleges won't accept scores.

David Rion, director of college guidance at the Loomis Chaffee School, a boarding institution in Windsor, Connecticut, expects that many colleges will keep their optional policies for the near future. But going test-optional has benefits, he said.

“They saw such huge application increases, and in many cases, increases in first-generation and underrepresented cohorts, that I can’t see how they’d go back to mandatory testing,” Rion said.

At Amherst College, 60% of students who applied last year -- the first test-optional year -- and enrolled in this year's freshman class submitted scores. Amherst won’t require tests for a total of four years, including current high-school sophomores and juniors, said Matthew L. McGann, dean of admissions and financial aid.

“If we start seeing not only schools that are test-optional but test-free, as the University of California, are we going to see large numbers of students that in the past would have taken the test just not take them?” McGann said. “It’s a little different.’’

The toll is showing. The number of SAT test-takers declined by almost one third to 1.5 million for the class of 2021 compared with the previous year. Those taking the ACT decreased 22% to 1.3 million.

Among those who didn't submit a score was Taryn Dalton, a senior at a public high school in Bethesda, Maryland. She said her scores weren't sufficient to submit.

“If I wanted to raise the score, I could have put time and effort into doing it, but it just didn't feel like it was worth it to me,” said Dalton, 18. “All of my peers, I think, feel that way. I'm sure that's why colleges are continuing to go test optional.”

None of the schools where she was planning to apply required the test. Instead, she was able to take more hours as a shift supervisor at an ice-cream shop.

Lisa Bleich, who runs a Westfield, New Jersey-based company that helps students with essays and on deciding where to apply, has been advising clients that if they're good test-takers, sending scores will enhance an application. “If you don’t test well, some of the pressure is off, as long as your grades, your rigor and everything else about your application is really strong,'' said Bleich, whose company, College Bound Mentor, doesn't offer test prep.

Eric Hoover of The Chronicle of Higher Education has co-authored a piece titled "When the SAT Feels Like a Lock, Not a Key":


The SAT test weighs heavily on our collective imagination—and most everyone can picture the nerve-wracking scene of students sitting at desks, bubbling in Scantron forms with a No. 2 pencil, while stern-faced proctors walk around looking for cheaters.

So it’s not surprising that the SAT shows up in lots of Hollywood blockbusters. And often, it’s the stuff of nightmares—as in the opening dream sequence of the 1983 film “Risky Business,” where Tom Cruise's character shows up late for his SAT test and worries that his life is “ruined.”

The SAT is super high stakes, and often the test is depicted as a barrier—a cold, impersonal gatekeeper—that in one three-hour sitting can shape the rest of a person's life. And it turns out it can feel like a very different obstacle for different types of students, depending on things like race and social class.
We wanted to get a perspective that goes beyond the popular notions from Hollywood, so we visited Thurgood Marshall Academy, a non-selective public charter school in Washington, D.C. The school has a proven track record for helping under-represented students get into college. Since 2005, 100 percent of its graduates have received an acceptance from at least one college, and about 85 percent of students who enroll at Thurgood Marshall go on to attend a four-year college.

Now you might think that the guidance counselor who has presided over much of this school’s success would have some special SAT training program for his students. But in fact, that official, Sanjay Mitchell, the school’s director of college and alumni programs, is a well-known, outspoken critic of the SAT.

“I have witnessed meltdowns in the hallways when students get their test scores,” he said. “I have witnessed how bright, talented students have that light just snuffed out of them when that test score comes. I've seen the ways in which students cram, and they have the big SAT prep book and they're reading and they're testing and they're struggling and they're striving, and so much of who they are as a college-bound student is so tied into that test. And when it doesn't land into the score that they think it should, it actually deflates our students, and it prevents them from applying to some of these spaces.”

And Mitchell argues that the SAT has impacts on underrepresented students that even college admissions officials may not realize.

And even when a student at Thurgood Marshall scores high on the SAT, the reaction is not always one of celebration.

“When I really think about my students with high test scores, they're not pumped or excited about applying to super selective schools, because I think deep down, somewhere inside, they just know that it's still not a space that wants them, even with their scores,” says Mitchell. “And it takes a lot of coaching, a lot of coaxing, a lot of conversation, to get them to consider [applying to a selective college.’”