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As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forces postponements, cancellations, and the possibility of online exams, higher education experts say colleges and universities should adopt flexible standardized testing policies for prospective students.
Harvard College’s Admissions and Financial Aid Office informed high school juniors that they would not be penalized for not submitting scores from Advanced Placement tests or SAT subject tests in late March. Harvard still requires ACT or SAT test scores from all applicants, but acknowledges that students may be unable to retake the exams given cancelled and postponed test dates.
The College Board announced on April 15 that it would cancel the June 6 SAT date due to the virus, marking the third cancelled test day this year. The June 13 ACT testing date is still scheduled as planned, though the April 4 date was cancelled.
Some schools in the Boston area, such as Boston University, Northeastern University, and Tufts University, have made ACT and SAT scores optional for current high school juniors. Cornell University is the only Ivy League school to have made the tests optional for applicants to the Class of 2025.
Jay R. Rosner, executive director of the Princeton Review Foundation, a non-profit college consulting service for low-income and minority students, said test date changes could negatively affect applicants who are already impacted most by the coronavirus.
“These kids are getting hit from all directions,” Rosner said. “I cannot understand why universities have not already said, ‘we want to put the minds and mental states and concerns of all juniors at rest. We are test-optional for your cycle.’”
“I think colleges and universities owe that to the junior class,” Rosner said.
If the coronavirus pandemic derails the next SAT date, slated for August 29, the College Board announced plans to provide online tests from home.
“In the unlikely event that schools do not reopen this fall, the College Board will provide a digital SAT for home use,” the College Board wrote on its website. “As with at-home AP exams, the College Board would ensure that at-home SAT testing is simple; secure and fair; accessible to all; and valid for use in college admissions.”
Rosner, however, said he fears online versions of the tests could perpetuate existing inequalities students face because of their varying home environments.
“Even if you discount all the inequities involved — bandwidth, computer access, computer capability, internet access — and assume that somehow every low-income kid can sit there with reasonable bandwidth and a computer that’s adequate to the task, there still will be significant glitches,” Rosner said. “So, it’s inconceivable to me that this can run well.”
Phil Trout, former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said he believes schools that consider becoming test-optional in the long run have empirical backing for doing so.
“College and university admission offices, as they've done their validity studies, have seen time-and-again that the test score is not the greatest predictor of success,” Trout said. “So, I think that gives credence to the growing number of institutions that are, in fact, going test-score optional in their holistic review and admissions.”
Dennis Y. Yim, director of academics at Kaplan Test Prep, said he hopes students continue to see value in standardized testing even if those tests are not mandatory.
“What we also remind juniors is that when colleges waive test requirements, they're not saying ‘we don't care about them.’ They're saying, you don't need them to apply,” Yim said. “For students who have an opportunity to really change their standing in the admissions process by differentiating themselves with a higher score in one of these exams, there still may be an opportunity left at the end of the year to be able to do that.”
Despite an increasing number of schools deciding to make testing optional for applicants to the Class of 2025, Trout said that — like many other factors dependent on the outcomes of the pandemic — the future of standardized testing remains unclear.
“It is yet another example of something in the coronavirus pandemic where the only legitimate answer is ‘we don't know,’” he said.
—Staff writer Benjamin L. Fu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenFu_2.
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