More colleges moving away from SAT, standardized testing

The College Board made the decision last week to nix the optional essay and subject tests as another step away from standardized testing during the pandemic.
Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 9:05 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The College Board announced last week they will get rid of the optional essay and subject tests on the SAT as another step away from standardized testing during the pandemic. It’s a move some local high school and college officials say they welcome.

Meghan Sweet, the director of counseling at South Burlington High School says the number of test-optional schools has gone up to over 1,600 in the last year, a huge shift away from standardized testing as part of the college admissions process in response to Covid-19.

“Eliminating tests in the admissions process is a game-changer for so many students,” said Sweet.

She says when access to standardized testing became difficult, many colleges looked the other way for their latest applicants. Sweet says the cost of the tests, as well as test-anxiety, serve as barriers to students and that taking away that variable shifts the focus as they get ready to move on from high school.

“And can really focus on their grades in classes, their essay, their recommendations, the things that do paint a picture of who they are as a student,” said Sweet.

It’s a picture that many college admissions counselors are enjoying.

“Thinking about the ways we are diminishing the value of standardized testing in the college admissions process,” said Nicole Curvin, the dean of admissions at Middlebury College.

Middlebury became test-optional as part of a three-year pilot project last April and will not be requiring them through the 2022-2023 application cycle. She says the decision by College Board to discontinue the optional essay and subject tests will have only a small direct impact, but she says it does signal a turn in what is valued on an application.

“Now, we are really prioritizing what I think is most important and that is the value of a high school experience, whatever that looks like for a student,” said Curvin.

She says a student’s choice on whether to include standardized test scores in their application does not advantage or disadvantage them. This year, the Middlebury applicant pool was about 50% with scores and 50% without. The school has also seen a 30% increase in applications.

And while Middlebury is in the thick of combing through those applications, Curvin says more options, is never a bad thing.

“Giving them some freedom to really think about the variety of schools they are applying to as opposed to being limited by a set of scores or a range that a school might list as their applicant pool,” she said.

Champlain College has been test-optional for three years and Diane Soboski, the school’s director of admissions, says this is nothing new for them. She says one trend they have noticed over three years of being test-optional is applicant diversity.

“You see students looking that might not have otherwise have not felt that they fit the bill or meet a certain criteria. I think too often students, when they are making their college list, can really focus on the numbers and there are a variety of different sources out there where you can pull numbers. Some that are more valid than others,” said Soboski.

Curvin says with more applications and no standout standardized test scores, that makes the pool more competitive and students will have to stand out in another way.

We also reached out to the University of Vermont because they cater to a much larger population of students. They say they don’t yet know how this is affecting who is applying, but they do say eliminating barriers and simplifying choices for students is a step in the right direction.

A number of grad schools have also waived the GRE test this year.

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