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Standardized Tests and the Coronavirus

High school students, teachers and counselors are all doing their best to keep up with school requirements from home, even as no one is sure how long this will go on.

For high school juniors, this is one of several issues they are dealing with when it comes to their college admissions process. In addition to learning the course material, they would normally also be preparing for and taking standardized tests—the SAT and/or ACT.  But these exams are given in schools, in crowded classrooms with proctors overseeing the process. The opposite of Physical Distancing.

The College Board, which owns the AP, SAT and SAT Subject exams has had to cancel several sittings of the SAT, including the one that the state of Connecticut uses to fulfill its “No Child Left Behind” test requirement. Giving the SAT during the school day—to the entire junior class at no cost to families—has several benefits, including that students who might not have considered taking the test, do take it. And possibly more students will apply to college once they have taken the SAT. The SAT also cancelled their May and June test dates and the ACT cancelled their April test. (No word yet on the June ACT.)

While the testing companies hope to give exams this summer and fall and are adding extra dates to accommodate the Class of 2021, no one can be sure that will happen. Consequently, many colleges are going Test Optional.

Test Optional means that the student can apply to college without submitting an SAT or ACT. Some colleges have been Test Optional for many years; Bowdoin College became test optional in 1969. These colleges will consider the student mainly on the high school transcript — the courses the student took, the grades earned and the strength of the curriculum — as well as other elements of their individual college application. The high school transcript remains the most important part of the application, both for colleges that require standardized exams and those that do not. The transcript is more predictive of student success in college. Even so, most colleges still want to see the results of a standardized exam and many colleges that are test optional receive a majority of applications that include test scores.

But for the high school Class of 2021, that may not be possible. Even as the College Board and ACT scramble to find ways for students to take these exams—the College Board going as far as committing to an at-home, online SAT if schools are not open this fall—more colleges are becoming “Test Optional”.

Some colleges have decided they will be test optional for the Class of 2021 only—these include Amherst College, Boston University, Case Western University and, most surprisingly, the University of California system. The list grows by the day. For the University of California, the specifics are still being worked out and students should check the UC website for details.  Other colleges, such as Swarthmore will be Test Optional for two years and many more are doing a three year trial, including Middlebury, Davidson and Tufts University.

If colleges can create the same incoming class that they have in the past, but without standardized tests, then they might decide that test optional will become a permanent change.

However, even colleges that are Test Optional for admission still require scores from some students. These may include International students, home schooled students and NCAA athletes.  Some specific scholarships also require test scores.

But students can’t take exams that are not available. Due to this unprecedented pandemic, “The NCAA Eligibility Center is waiving the standardized test score requirement for incoming freshman student-athletes in both Division I and Division II for the 2020-21 academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the governing body announced Friday.”

As the facts on the ground change, students, teachers, counselors, testing companies, the NCAA and the colleges are all adapting in real time.

Janet Rosier