More US universities end use of standardised tests in admissions

Caltech suspends requirement for two years while University of Washington commits to long-term shift in entry criteria

June 16, 2020
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More US universities have announced that they will stop considering SAT or ACT test scores in admissions decisions in the wake of Covid-19, but institutions have been warned against disregarding standardised tests altogether.

Earlier this month, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) announced that it had enacted a two-year moratorium on the requirement and consideration of SAT and ACT test scores as part of the undergraduate admissions process.

It said the change was “made in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic and its continuing impact on access to these exams for students across the country and globe”.

It is the most selective university yet to adopt a test-blind policy.

It means that all first-year students applying to Caltech for autumn 2021 and 2022 will instead be measured on their “curriculum and academic preparedness”. This will include reviewing coursework completed at school and teacher recommendations, as well as students showing that they use maths, for instance, “through multiple aspects of their lives”, such as in extracurricular activities or hobbies.

Meanwhile, the University of Washington announced last week that it had removed the requirement of standardised test scores, such as the SAT and ACT, for students beyond autumn 2021.

The requirement had already been temporarily removed for 2021 because of the lack of available testing amid the pandemic, but Washington said the longer-term change would “allow applicants to focus instead on taking a rigorous, college-preparatory high school curriculum, which more directly correlates with success” at the institution.

The moves follow the University of California’s decision last month to suspend SAT and ACT testing requirements until 2024, with the expectation of eliminating them altogether. The university system is looking to develop a new state-specific test “that better aligns with the content the university expects students to have mastered for college readiness”.

Several institutions, including Princeton, Stanford and Yale universities, have previously made the essay or writing sections of the tests optional.

Julie Posselt, associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, said “Caltech’s decision has the potential to influence other universities as an elite institution whose example many others may be inclined to follow, and in eliminating consideration of scores altogether, rather than making them optional to submit”.

“I hope this moment gives many universities the courage to experiment,” she added.

Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, said he suspected that Caltech’s move to stop considering the SAT or ACT would be temporary, but he agreed that it was “a good opportunity to experiment” in admissions.

He added that he hoped the changes would help institutions “understand how to use the SATs better”, and he hoped that universities would properly evaluate the impact of different admissions criteria on graduation rates.

According to Dr Strohl, selective universities rely too heavily on standardised test scores, but it would be a mistake to disregard them altogether.

“The university system as a whole benefits from a standardised exam that enables them to put everybody on the same par because here in the US, we have a very non-standardised K-12 [primary to secondary] education system,” he said.

Meanwhile, more subjective metrics such as academic preparation, which highly correlate with success on the SAT or the ACT, are also “highly correlated with affluence and being white”, he added.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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