The potential beginning of the end of required standardized testing

Many colleges contemplate waiving testing requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic


Mina Jung/Talon

Will social distancing and COVID illicit the end of standardized testing?

Taking the SAT and/or ACT has been somewhat of a rite of passage to get into college for millions of students, many of whom are burdened with a multitude of anxiety-inducing prep classes, countless hours of practice and the payoff being a letter seemingly filled with the weight of the world. 

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Education has allowed states to cancel standardized testing, and as a result, 2020 is the first year without federally mandated testing in nearly two decades. 

With many high schools closing their doors and going remote for the rest of the academic year, a growing number of colleges and universities are revising their testing policies amid the pandemic. 

In fact, some colleges are going above and beyond this new system.

On Sept. 24, the First Appellate District Court of Appeal in California stayed the case against the UC Board of Regents, which had originally called for the removal of test scores as admission criteria. 

On Oct. 29, the California appellate court dissolved this stay, meaning that effective immediately, the Universities of California will be test-blind for anyone applying for fall 2021 admissions. 

“The current COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in restrictions in the availability of test sites,” Alameda County Superior Judge Brad Seligman said. “Test-taking opportunities for all students have been limited, and the ability to obtain accommodations … are ‘almost nil.’”

In their admissions during fall 2023 and fall 2024, the UCs have committed to be test-blind. Furthermore, the Board also wrote in a press release in May that if a new test did not emerge by 2025, the UC system would suspend the standardized test requirement for all California students. 

On May 21, the Board of Regents of the University of California system voted to stop requiring their tests for admission, but they will still accept scores from students who apply in fall 2022. However, the testing requirements for students graduating in 2022 is still up in the air, as the appellate court has still not made a decision. 

Many other colleges are following suit with the UCs — Boston University is going test-optional for first-year applicants applying for the fall of 2021 and spring 2022, Tufts University is experimenting with going test-optional for the next three years and Oregon University and Oregon State University both announced they will permanently no longer be requiring the SAT/ACT for admission. 

For students who have already or are planning on signing up to take a standardized test, the College Board issued a statement, as well as a list of test centers that have closed. The statement advises that students check their emails regularly and frequently since test centers can cancel before administration often right up until the test date. In the case that a student’s test center does close, they should receive an email confirming whether or not there will be a makeup; if there is no makeup, the student will receive a refund on their tests. 

Contrary to the College Board’s claims, junior Shouka Tavakolian wrote to the Talon that she never received a refund on her registered SAT exams. 

“I was supposed to take [my test] in October but a week before the exam, I got an email saying that it was canceled,” Tavakolian wrote to the Talon. “I never received a refund and I rescheduled for November and had to pay again.” 

Though the College Board has claimed that students will receive refunds for canceled exams, Tavakolian’s experience, faced with the troubles of rescheduling and paying for an exam without receiving a refund for the one canceled, contradicts that statement.

“The November test will probably be canceled as well, but I have to try,” Tavakolian wrote. “I worked so hard studying an hour every day over the summer and bringing my score up to a perfect 1600. I felt so defeated when they canceled my exam.” 

Many students have undergone the task of continuously rescheduling for their exams. This has caused the majority of test-takers to register for a multitude of exams as a precautionary measure. 

“I registered for the April ACT (this got canceled and refunded), then for the June SAT (canceled and refunded), the July ACT (canceled and refunded), and the August SAT, which I ultimately decided to fly to Utah to take,” junior Nikita Manyak wrote to the Talon. “I also signed up for the October SAT, which I am going to take back in Utah, and the October ACT, which I may or may not take in Vegas.” 

Going test-optional is far different from not taking scores into consideration at all. In making this ambiguous move, many colleges have created a pool of confused students willing to go to extreme lengths to take their standardized exams, even during a pandemic. A large number of students, like Manyak, have even taken the pains to get in a plane and travel to a testing center one or more states away. 

However, not every student has the ability to cross state lines to administer their registered exams. The students who are able to do that are given a significant advantage over those who cannot leave their home state just for a test. There is a clear advantage given to upper middle class students, who can easily afford to spend time traveling to other states, rather than students who simply cannot consider crossing state borders to take standardized tests.

For those testing centers that are still open, testing conditions are strictly enforced. Students are not permitted to enter without a mask and must be seated at least six feet away from each other. Gloves, hand sanitizers, and other personal protection equipment are highly recommended and centers advise students to stay home if they do not feel well. Testing centers will also ask students to verbally answer a short survey when they reach the entrance of the center; any student who refuses to or does not clearly answer these questions will be denied entry into the testing room. The list of questions can be found on the College Board website below their statement.

Similar to the SAT tests, ACT officials are also enforcing strict health rules at their testing centers. However, there is a wider variety of testing dates available, with the next four dates being Oct. 10, 17, 24, and 25.

Rising COVID-19 cases in California have prompted the shutdown of nearly every testing center, with the majority of them offering refunds and a select few scheduled for makeup exam dates. Additional colleges listed as test-optional for the 2020-2021 school year are Rice University, Hofstra University, UChicago, George Washington University, and Emory. An updated list of colleges and universities going test optional for fall 2021 admissions can be found here.

Additionally, all eight Ivy League schools are going test-optional for the SAT/ACT as well as the SAT Subject Tests, with the exception of Yale not considering the latter at all in their admission process.

Senior Krisha Thakur took her SAT exam last October before the pandemic hit the United States.

“I have not noticed any difficulty in submitting my scores,” Thakur wrote to the Talon. “Colleges have worked hard to make this process as simple as possible!” 

Though colleges are rapidly reevaluating their admissions processes in response to the rising COVID-19 cases, junior Aita Sharifi believes that while the majority of colleges will inevitably go test-optional or blind, not every single one will. 

“The SAT and ACT tests are inherently a huge determining factor for many applicants trying to get into college and receive scholarships because they have been ingrained into our admissions process for so long,” Sharifi said. “Colleges that are more competitive, in my opinion, probably will not be going test-blind for the reason that there are too many applicants in their admission process. It will be harder for students to get in with lesser admission criteria because there will be more competition for them to beat.”

It is likely that college admissions will change in the near future because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many might be influenced by their renewed admission criteria. It is safe to say that we can expect to see an increase in the number of test-optional colleges as COVID-19 cases rise. Though once a prevalent standard for college admission, standardized testing is slowly becoming more and more obsolete during this pandemic, and it is not far off to state that this may become the new norm for future generations.