Test Optional Policies were already gaining momentum in a pre-COVID world, and a growing number of colleges had removed the requirement that all applicants submit SAT or ACT scores. COVID-19 accelerated this trend, as many students were unable to sit for either test due to widespread test cancellations and colleges consequently saw fit to suspend their testing requirements, some indefinitely, some for a prescribed period of time. It will be years if not decades before we can truly begin to understand the educational consequences of COVID-19 and the resulting policy changes, but our present moment provides an opportunity for colleges to reexamine their admissions requirements and the tools they use to evaluate their applicants. Test Optional Policies are good common-sense policies for four-year colleges in the United States.
College admissions is not, and has never been, a process that measures all students by the same yardstick, and the components of a college application vary widely from both student-to-student and college-to-college. Some students submit art portfolios, others send highlight reels of their athletic achievements, while still others attend in-person auditions. These students are submitting materials that are deemed relevant to the path they will pursue in college. We should no more ask our ceramics majors for their 40-yard-dash times than we should require our pre-med students to deliver a monologue. Performance on the SAT and ACT should be treated similarly: if a given college deems these scores necessary to the specific course of study that a student intends to pursue or to the academic interests of the school as a whole, by all means that school can and should require that students submit their test results, but unexamined blanket requirements that all applicants submit standardized test scores do not serve the best interests of colleges or their applicants.
The science and art of college admissions seeks to evaluate qualities that are difficult if not impossible to measure. There is no test for character, wisdom, collaboration, creativity, or resourcefulness, and so admissions officers must draw conclusions about applicants based on essays, recommendations, transcripts, resumes, and any combination of supplementary material that an applicant may provide. Standardized test scores also have a place among these many diverse components of a college application. Of course, there are immensely talented and hard-working students who underperform on these tests for any number of reasons, just as there are students who earn high scores but shrink at the prospect of truly challenging intellectual work. But NTPA members are on the front lines of testing, working with students every day, and we know better than most that these tests do measure real and important skills, including but not limited to students’ command of basic rules of grammar, their ability to read and understand sophisticated texts, and their facility with a range of mathematical concepts. Rather than mandate that all applicants submit SAT or ACT scores, colleges are wise to consider policies that empower students to submit their test results if students, families, and school counselors wish to do so.
Travis Minor, owner of Open Door Education in Acton and Concord, MA, has helped thousands of students succeed on standardized tests of all shapes and sizes. Travis earned his BS in Secondary Education at the University of Vermont and his M.Ed. at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where he continues to work as the Teaching Fellow for Education Entrepreneurship and Managing Financial Resources for Nonprofit Organizations. Travis has served as a City Heroes Team Leader, a trustee of The Scholarship Fund of Concord and Carlisle, and as a volunteer firefighter, and Travis currently serves on the board of the National Test Prep Association as the Vice President of Ethics and Professional Practices.