The significant barriers to access imposed by the SAT, ACT and other standardized tests, and the resulting inequities, are not limited to the challenges of test administration during a pandemic.

 The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and its members are deeply committed to helping students navigate the college process and find colleges where they can grow, succeed, learn, and thrive.

IECA believes in the transformative power of education, and we are devoted to our mission of ensuring that all students have access to education, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, learning differences or zip code. We demonstrate this commitment through (1) our work with thousands of students and families from all 50 states and around the world (2) our partnerships with colleges, schools and therapeutic programs and (3) the creation of equitable and inclusive resources.

IECA seeks to prevent barriers to that access.

In an effort to advance equity, IECA believes that all students should be able to choose how to present themselves in their college applications and whether or not to submit their standardized test scores.

Every year, many students are disadvantaged in the college admissions process because of the inequities ingrained in the SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests. Large numbers of low income students lack access to private tutors, enhanced educational opportunities, study guides, computer technology, reliable internet access and other resources typically available to wealthier students. Low income students face additional barriers associated with the financial burden of sending score reports.

These are not the only students who face barriers imposed by standardized testing. Countless students with learning differences struggle disproportionately with standardized testing. These students are often unlikely to perform as well as their neurotypical peers on standardized tests and, as a result, are frequently at a disadvantage in college admissions.

As a result of these significant barriers, many students find that their standardized test scores do not accurately reflect their skills and abilities. These students should have the opportunity to decide if their scores are considered in the college admissions evaluation process.

FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and many others, have provided extensive data to support the unfairness inherent in these tests. This data shows that standardized test scores are neither a strong predictor of academic achievement in college nor of graduation rates, and also establishes a correlation between test scores and income. Many colleges and universities, well aware of these factors, became test optional (or test blind). These colleges and universities reconsidered their traditional admissions requirements and found creative solutions that allowed them to continue to make thoughtful admissions decisions without standardized test scores. Studies have also shown that test-optional colleges and universities admit higher numbers of low income students, underrepresented minorities, women, and first generation students.

Colleges and universities must act now to remove the barriers to equitable access to higher education that are presented by standardized testing.

COVID-19 and the resulting complications with the administration of standardized testing has magnified these inequities. The College Board (SAT) and ACT have canceled, and continue to cancel or postpone, numerous test administrations across the world. The resulting uncertainty has also increased student stress and anxiety. The at-home AP exam was especially problematic for students without access to quiet spaces, reliable technology and internet access. Many thousands of students were unable to complete the exams, and it is impossible to quantify the numbers of students who did not even attempt the exam, because of these barriers. The at-home AP exams also presented challenges for students with learning differences who require accommodations.

According to FairTest, more than half of the nation’s four-year colleges and universities (and this number continues to grow) have responded to these challenges by becoming test optional for the high school Class of 2021. Many also have chosen to be test optional for up to a three-year pilot period, and many have made the decision to become permanently test optional. Others have adopted test blind admissions policies.

In announcing the decision to become test optional, University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce summarizes the rationale for eliminating the SAT/ACT requirement: “Careful analysis and research showed that standardized testing did not add meaningfully to the prediction of student success that our holistic admission process already provides.” Similarly, as stated by Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis of the University of California system’s Governing Board, “These tests are extremely flawed and very unfair. Enough is enough.”

Enough is enough.

IECA is calling on colleges and universities to embrace this opportunity to become more equitable and reduce barriers by becoming test optional on a permanent basis for admissions consideration and in the awarding of merit aid, thereby increasing fair and equal access to higher education for all students. IECA is further calling on colleges and universities to allow self-reporting of test scores in order to reduce the financial burden on students.  

The time is now to remove barriers, not just for the high school Class of 2021, but for all future college applicants.

5 comments

  1. I agree with all stated above. I do have a question, however. If test scores are eliminated, how will colleges determine admission for students who have comparable GPAs? Test optional may suggest that when scores are not sent it is because they are low. Will they consider grade inflation? Disadvantaged students will still be at a disadvantage if essays and activity lists are the determining factor as the more affluent schools and students have access to better assistance in completing this part of the application. I am just curious if anyone has a good alternative to testing.

  2. I’m delighted to read this policy recommendation from IECA, and completely agree. It buttresses our mission as IECs to expand access to higher education.

  3. Thank you for this strong statement reflecting the heart of IECA. My concern is that until colleges are ‘test blind’, students submitting scores for certain programs will be advantaged. Testing will be / is reinventing itself, and I believe higher ed will help that transformation along.

  4. I’ve never been more proud to be a member of IECA and am grateful for this clear call to action for colleges to adopt test-option admissions practice. For too many years, too many students, many of them already facing significant hurdles to college admissions, have not only been put at a disadvantage through the admissions process, but have been placed under undue stress to take these tests — and to perform well. Just as it is our job as consultants to help students discover and apply to the colleges that are the best matches for them, so to is it the job of the colleges to find those students who are the right fit for them. Standardized test scores offer little in helping admissions deans to make these decisions. This pandemic has revealed the darth of value in college admissions testing. Let’s do right by our students and come out of this time of crisis with an admissions process that is fair, student-centered, and holistic.

  5. Canadian universities – with a few misguided exceptions – continue to practice the approach advocated for here. In fact, at the schools where I have worked in admissions, standardized test results are disregarded as poor indicators of a prospective student’s potential. I say this not to say Canadian schools are more enlightened, but rather to expose the proof point that successful enrolment management can exist without standardized test results.

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