Compulsory standardized testing requirements may be a thing of the past for U.S. higher education institutions. Just a few years ago, there was no question that students looking to apply to colleges and universities had to take either the SAT or ACT and submit scores along with their application materials like high school transcripts, lists of extracurricular activities and letters of recommendation. But right now, the future of standardized testing requirements is still up in the air at many schools.
The National Education Association (NEA), explains that the first Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) were administered nearly 100 years ago, in 1926. Originally created by the College Board, a nonprofit group of universities and other educational organizations, the SAT originally included just 315 questions designed to gauge students’ knowledge of vocabulary and math. By 1930, the test was split into two, assessing verbal and math knowledge separately. The ACT – American College Testing – was introduced in 1959 and developed to compete with the SAT.
Today, the SAT and the ACT, along with various advanced placement (AP) tests are just some of the many standardized assessments given to students during their K-12 schooling. Until recently, these tests were required by most higher education institutions to help admissions personnel gauge high school students’ readiness for college using a common data point. The Princeton Review notes that the higher a student scores on the SAT and/or ACT, the more options he or she has for attending and paying for college. However, the importance of SAT scores in the college application process varies from one school to another.
At no time has that statement been more accurate then today. Back in March 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions went into place and students were learning from home, high school junior and seniors were unable to go to standardized testing sites to take the SAT and ACT. While students eyeing admission to higher education for the 2020-2021 year generally had taken the tests and received scores, those looking to enter programs in January 2021 or apply to schools for the 2021-2022 academic year were unable to take tests. Colleges and universities began offering test-optional admissions applications. Now that many pandemic restrictions have lifted and testing sites have re-opened, many institutions are maintaining their no-test-required policies, at least for the next few admissions cycles.
A high number of institutions will continue to suspend the testing mandate. According to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, there are 1,830 accredited four-year colleges and universities with ACT/SAT-optional testing policies for the Fall 2022 admissions cycle. Other schools are doing away with the testing requirement for the next several yearsAll Ivy League Universities dropped the SAT requirements for the Class of 2025 in June 2020, just a few months after shelter-in-place restrictions began in 2020. Harvard recently announced that it would suspend the requirement for SAT or ACT scores for the classes of ’27, ’28, ’29 and ’30. The school stressed that students who don’t submit standardized test scores won’t be at a disadvantage in their application process, and that the college will consider students on the basis of the other materials they present.
Bucking the trend, MIT recently announced it now requires the SAT or ACT for prospective first year and transfer students for applicants looking to enter the school in 2023 and beyond. In a statement, MIT explained that its decision to reinstate the SAT/ACT requirement for future admission cycles is due to testing being so predictive of academic preparedness and success. “Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT. We believe a requirement is more equitable and transparent than a test-optional policy,” the school explained.
Of course, students can submit test scores with their application. Schools such as Salem State, for instance, have eliminated standardized testing, noting that its admissions decisions will focus on a student’s academic work and grade point average, which it feels are better predictors for academic success. Salem State encourages students with a GPA of 2.5 or higher to submit scores to assist with academic placement during class registration, and students with a GPA of 2.5 or lower must submit a letter of reference from a teacher or guidance counselor.