US Colleges Face Pressure to Become Test-Optional

By Melina Wisecup

NEW YORK—More American universities are facing pressure to drop SAT/ACT test requirements for admission.

According to the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, 47 accredited colleges dropped the requirement between 2018-2019. To date, 1,050 universities are now test-optional.

Test-optional means that the student can decide which type of testing they feel most accurately represents their academic achievements. At most of these test-optional schools, the requirement is that students can choose to submit the SAT, ACT, or three subject tests (multiple choice standardized tests on a chosen subject).

The trend has become so widespread that some colleges still adhering to the traditional SAT/ACT test requirements are facing legal action. For example, University of California is facing a threat from civil rights groups that say they will sue if the school doesn’t remove the requirement. The school is still deciding how they should move forward regarding this concern.

Claire Doan, University of California’s executive director of strategic communications and media relations told Inside Higher Ed, “The university is currently waiting for the assessment and recommendations from the Academic Senate’s Task Force before determining whether any steps should be taken on this important issue.”

NTD Photo
Future university students tour the New York University campus on Nov. 5, 2019. (Meiji Rong/NTD News)

Case Against Testing

Parents and students argue that the tests are not an accurate measure of academic capacity. It’s also argued that the test requirements discriminate against students with learning disabilities since they’re given extra time and their test scores get labeled that way.

A further criticism is that the testing is unfair to students from lower social classes.

Anthony Cruz, a first-year student at New York University experienced first hand the difficulties faced when a student doesn’t come from a family with the funds to spend on private tutoring or prep classes.

“My parents couldn’t really afford to get me additional review books, they couldn’t afford to get me private counseling or private tutoring for the SAT. So it was really just whatever online free resources I could get; whatever help that my teachers could offer me in their spare time just out of the kindness of their heart, but no set program,” said Cruz.

Students also say the tests don’t provide an accurate representation of their academic strengths, especially those who are skilled in areas that are only expressed through creative means, such as writing and the arts.

Some students simply get nervous when taking a test and the pressure and anxiety may limit their ability to reach their full potential.

“I get really nervous when I test and sitting down doing an exam for four or five hours at a time was not necessarily my strong suit,” said Michelle Egli, a freshman at New York University.

A recent study by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (pdf) attempted to quantify how well testing measures academic merit. The study concludes that 53 percent of students accepted to 200 of the most selective colleges wouldn’t have been accepted if the schools relied only SAT scores as the determining factor for admissions.