High school juniors and seniors would usually be preparing for final standardized tests, polishing their college applications and rounding out their adolescence with senior photoshoots and promposals.
But, normal hasn’t been for almost two months.
College campuses have been closed to the majority of students for weeks, and K-12 students have been learning from home for just as long. And being “college-ready” is difficult when the main admissions key, a high ACT or SAT score, has been put on hold.
College Board, the company that administers the SAT, announced Wednesday the June 6 test administration will be canceled because of the spread of COVID-19 and the closures of schools across 192 countries. ACT, another standardized test more prominent for Southeastern students, postponed the April 4 test to June 13.
SAT cancels June test, ACT reschedules exam
In response to the cancelations, some colleges in Alabama have been making a temporary shift to test-optional admissions, meaning that students can choose an alternate form of admissions that would assess their application on the grounds of other criteria, like an essay, their high school grade point average, their extracurricular activities, community service and more.
Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama State University, University of Mobile and the University of South Alabama have all made the switch. “This is going to take a lot of stress off the students,” said Terri Rector Michal, board representative for District 2 at Birmingham City Schools. “They aren’t getting their proms. They’re not getting their graduations. This is a hard time to be a senior in high school.”
Alabama juniors took the ACT right before schools closed, said Kristina Scott, director of Alabama Possible, but the option to apply to a university even if their score isn’t exactly where they want it gives students options, she said. There has been discussion from test administrators about virtual proctoring, but at the moment, no decisions have been made final.
“The ACT score does not reflect a student’s ability to go to college and succeed in college,” Scott said.
There has been a national movement toward test-optional admissions in the wake of COVID-19 including colleges in Texas, Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas to name a few, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Although there has been a surge of universities choosing to make the shift because of issues with standardized testings and financial issues on families, the movement started well before the pandemic.
In 2015, over 675,000 students “opted out” of taking state tests — Lousiana being one of the only states in the Southeast to submit participation numbers, according to FairTest. Standardized testing has been criticized over the past few years for unintended bias against students of lower socioeconomic status. Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director at FairTest, told Fox News that test scores, statistically correlate more strongly with family income than academic ability.
“It’s a good thing for a university to consider,” Michal said, as there are a lot of attributes, skills and gifts that tests can’t measure.
But, it’s not just a “flip-the-switch” issue for some universities. Selective institutions worry that their rating through services like US News and World Report will tank because the system is based on the test scores of incoming students, Scott said, so any change to college admissions is taken with a great amount of thought.
“As the nation faces the COVID-19 crisis, we do not want to place undue hardships on students who cannot take the ACT or SAT due to testing facilities being closed nationwide,” said Davida Haywood, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Alabama State University in a statement. “By waiving the test requirements, we can help to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to be considered for admission to Alabama State University.”
But, it’s not all about the students, frankly. College admissions numbers are expected to plummet as students reevaluate their futures because of health and financial issues in their personal lives and home. The Uniiversity of Michigan is anticipating up to $1 billion in anticipated losses because of the “evolving COVID-19 situation.” Most colleges will not have filled those first classes by the May 1 deadline, according to a piece from Robert Massa, a higher education expert teaching at the University of Southern California.
Universities facing decreases in general admissions are trying to keep those incoming students on-track for the upcoming semesters — whether online or on-campus — and removing barriers like required test scores is one option.
“This is impacting family finances, public funding for colleges and students’ interest,” Scott said. “Taking another barrier away will remind people that they want students to come.”