Four IECA Members Honored with 2022 Making a Difference Awards

IECA has recognized four independent educational consultants (IECs) from across the U.S. with its annual Making a Difference Awards in recognition of their selfless volunteer efforts that have made a difference in the work of the association’s 2,600 members during this year.

Award recipients include Chris Andersson of New York, NY; Cheryl Chamberlain of Riverwoods, IL; Yesim Erez of Anaheim Hills, CA and Istanbul, Turkey; and Yvonne Espinoza of Austin, TX.

Through their efforts, these members have added significantly to the strengths and skills of their IECA member colleagues in their work with tens of thousands of students annually. The lifelong learning, collegiality, and ethical standards represented by the awardees are the hallmarks of IECA.

The Making a Difference Awards were presented by IECA Board President Ibrahim Firat during the organization’s Fall Conference (November 7-9, 2022 in San Diego, CA), which was attended by over 1,000 independent educational consultants and college, school, and therapeutic program representatives.

“Our Making a Difference awardees have fostered connections and community among IECA members, and shared resources benefiting all members’ IEC practices,” said IECA CEO Mark Sklarow. “Their collegiality and generosity are hallmarks of IECA.”

Ibrahim Firat (left) with Chris Andersson (right)
Cheryl Chamberlain
Ibrahim Firat (left) with Yesim Erez (right)
Yvonne Espinoza

IECA Advocates for Religious Tolerance and Inclusion

IECA advocates for religious tolerance and inclusion and condemn all forms of antisemitism, extremism, hate, and bigotry. We believe no one should feel attacked or marginalized because of their religious beliefs, and that every student, family, and colleague should be treated with kindness, acceptance, and respect.

Disturbingly, antisemitism remains a persistent and serious problem in the US and globally. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that attacks on Jewish people and sites in the US were committed at record high levels in 2021, including hundreds at colleges and universities. We at IECA are deeply troubled by this intolerance and offer our support and empathy to our Jewish students, families, members, and affiliated professionals.

IECA is committed to helping families of all backgrounds have access to skilled and ethical academic or therapeutic guidance and to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. We welcome all individuals, regardless of age, citizenship status, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, learning differences, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Our work to promote equity, fairness, and inclusion must be constant.

We urge our members and colleagues to recognize and respond to instances of antisemitism, bigotry, and hate. Here are resources to help you take action today:

As leaders in education, we have an opportunity to model leadership that is focused on unity, support, and action. We must do our part to build a more tolerant, inclusive, and socially just society.

IECA Presents to US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions

On October 19, 2022, IECA members Bar Clarke,  Karen Mabie, Heidi Molbak, and Jesse Quam joined CEO Mark Sklarow in presenting to the senior staff of the Senate Committee that oversees a wide area of legislative responsibility. The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) requested IECA’s input as it explores adolescents and mental health, with a particular focus on health and safety of teens in therapeutic residential programs. Staff leaders representing Senator Patty Murray (WA) and IECA’s legislative counsel, Craig Saperstein of Pillsbury Law, also participated in the meeting.

At the outset, IECA had the chance to explain the Association’s work, our criteria for membership, and earning designations in therapeutic placements. IECA’s Principles of Good Practice, our Standards of Excellence and training new independent educational consultants (IECs) through our Summer Training Institute were all explored by the Committee staff. They seemed particularly interested in our prohibition against accepting kickbacks or expensive gifts as well as the role IECs play beyond student placement including after-care, family dynamics, and communication with parties during treatment periods.

In response to questions about campus visits, IECA members noted that being able to visit a campus and speak with students was incredibly valuable, and that the online Member Network allows IECA members to find trusted colleagues who may have a recent experience with a program. Mark Sklarow cautioned that while IECA members can visit programs, these are planned and controlled, and that state government and credentialing organization hold greater authority in evaluative visits which can be unscheduled and more invasive.

The Senate Committee staffers seemed interested to learn that IECs are, at times, brought on to assist a school district in finding residential care when local options have been exhausted. Likewise, referrals from psychologists and other professionals were discussed.

Bringing up the “horror stories” at programs that surfaced in the news recently, the IECA team offered several insights. They noted that many of these stories relate to instances more than two decades old, which was followed by a period of dramatic change and improvement in program staff training, new policies to safeguard children, and the like. Additionally, we noted that many of the stories specifically relate to publicly financed programs, not those privately held. Even so, the IECA team was clear that IECA supports new legislation that can assure the safety and care of teens, including extensive staff training on therapeutic holds and isolation, record-keeping, improved communication between teens and parents, and recognition of client rights.

IECA also addressed the work of some unaffiliated consultants who act as program recruiters or agents, accepting kickbacks (while masquerading as IECs), and indicated that such actions hurt the professional reputation of legitimate IECs. IECA endorsed mental health parity and expressed concern that those who go too far to attack all therapeutic schools and programs run the risk of stigmatizing adolescents seeking mental health care.

IECA and our Therapeutic and Government Relations Committees anticipate providing additional input to the Senate Committee in the new legislative year.

Establishing an Inclusive Practice, Supporting Our LGBTQIA+ Students

Note: This blog uses terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers. It Gets Better Project offers a helpful glossary.

Happy Pride Month, IECA!

In June, the month of the historic Stonewall Uprising of 1969, we celebrate with Pride the global LGBTQIA+ community and the Black and Brown trans foremothers of the gay rights movement, people who fought for equality and justice in the face of violence and harassment for being their authentic selves.

Pride Month is about celebration, but it is also about advocacy and activism. As IECs, we are in a prime position to be allies and advocates for our LGBTQIA+ students.

Supporting LGBTQIA+ People

The first thing we can do to support our LGBTQIA+ students and families is to ensure that we support our LGBTQIA+ colleagues and people in our everyday lives. Learning how individual schools, colleges, and therapeutic programs serve LGBTQIA+ students is important, but that information will land flat if our consulting practices and professional associations don’t operate inclusively to begin with.

Let’s start by recognizing the falsehoods and societal norms we’ve internalized and re-educate ourselves so we can be effective allies.

Misinformation and false assumptions cause harm to LGBTQIA+ people. Having a gender identity or sexual orientation that does not align with cisnormative, heteronormative standards is not someone’s lifestyle choice or political statement. It is the true, lived experience of a human being.

Being raised with recent social norms can result in anti-LGBTQIA+ bias and internalized homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism—even for people within the LGBTQIA+ community. These norms lead us to expect that people are heterosexual and identify with the gender they were assigned at birth unless we’re told otherwise, unless the person “comes out.” These assumptions are unconscious until we make an effort to examine and counteract them by seeking education.

Educating Ourselves

LGBTQIA+. Heteronormative. Homophobia. Transgender. Ally. Microaggression. Gay. Queer.

Some of these words may be familiar. Others may not. Make an effort to learn them. Find a buddy to practice with and help you use them. Pronouns and chosen names, in particular, require practice.

Education helps us be informed and effective allies. Don’t rely on an LGBTQIA+ person to define terms or tell you why certain language is hurtful or offensive. Use Google and accept responsibility for your own learning. (You’ll find numerous resources throughout this blog.)

Being an Ally Requires Action

Allies take action even when it’s uncomfortable.

For example: Speak up when you observe microaggressions against an LGBTQIA+ person or group. Correct a speaker who has misgendered someone. Don’t let others use words like “gay” or “queer” in a negative way or tell an LGBTQIA+ person to act or look differently in order to fit in. When you make an inevitable mistake, apologize, correct it, and move on without calling further attention to the blunder.

Be an Ally by Protecting LGBTQIA+ Students

We live in an unjust world where LGBTQIA+ students are not always safe, even at home. If a student comes out to you, respond with appreciation, respect, and affirmation. Listen attentively. Ask if they need any help or resources.

Maintain student confidentiality in conversation, communication, and written notes. It is critically important that we don’t “out” a student to anyone, including their family. Consider specifying in your client agreement that you will maintain student confidentiality except in cases where you are a mandatory reporter or choose to follow such guidelines.

Develop a list of local and online organizations that you can share with students if needed. GLSEN’s When A Student Comes Out to You blog provides helpful advice for education professionals, and their Coming Out blog and handout are excellent resources for students.

Other Actions That Build an Inclusive Practice

  • Create and promote a non-discrimination policy.
    Be sure your policy includes non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Ensure that it applies to all individuals, including students, parents/guardians/caregivers, employees, vendors, and your professional network.
  • Conduct a content audit.
    Are your forms, resources, and photos inclusive of all identities and family structures? Do you use inclusive language in your online content and communication with families?
  • Ask for chosen or preferred name, rather than nickname.
    A nickname can be informal or trivial, whereas a trans student’s chosen name is a vital affirmation of their identity. To be inclusive of trans students, use the term chosen name or preferred name, or simply ask “What would you like me to call you?”
  • Don’t require, or even request, a person’s legal name.
    A trans person’s legal name may be dysphoric for them. Only ask for it when absolutely necessary, such as on applications that will need to match the student’s high school or medical records.
  • Avoid “othering” trans and non-binary people when requesting pronouns.
    When requesting pronouns from clients, provide a blank line where each respondent may fill in their own answer. This is preferable to trying to list all possible pronouns and avoids minimizing the identity of someone who might otherwise have selected “Other.”
  • Don’t make sharing pronouns compulsory.
    A student may feel unsafe sharing their pronouns, especially in a group setting. Likewise, someone who is struggling to determine their true identity after years of hiding it may not be ready to share definitive pronouns. Make sharing an option, not a requirement. Use the person’s name when referring to them until they share their pronouns or you can ask privately.

Safer Spaces Start with Us

Establishing an inclusive practice for LGBTQIA+ students and families requires that we continue to learn and grow. The resulting strength of our personal and professional relationships, and the joy of a well-supported and well-advised student, remind us why the effort is worth it.

By Suzanne Lewis, M.Ed., founder & CEO of Meridian Educational Consulting LLC. As an active Professional member of IECA, she serves on the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Committee, was a 2021 Summer Training Institute (STI) faculty member, and co-founded the LGBTQIA+ and Allies Affinity Group with Chris Andersson.

Resources for Further Study

Many local and national organizations provide resources and education for you or your constituents:

PFLAG – With over 400 chapters across the country, PFLAG provides confidential peer support, education, and advocacy to LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families, and allies.

GLSEN – Their mission is to ensure that every member of every K-12 school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Provides student programs, advocacy, research, and policy work.

The Trevor Project – The world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. Also offers resources and education for people working with LGBTQ youth.

  • Read the report from their 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

It Gets Better Project – Their mission is to uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ+ youth around the globe. Offers inspiring content and mental health tools.

Campus Pride – The leading organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for LGBTQ students. Known for the Campus Pride Index database of LGBTQ-friendly campuses, they offer a myriad of other resources for college students and those building college lists.

The Williams Institute – The leading research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. Ensures that facts—not stereotypes—inform laws, policies, and judicial decisions that affect the LGBT community.

  • Published a report in May 2022 on the “Experiences of LGBTQ People in Four-Year Colleges and Graduate Programs.”

Introducing the AXS Companion to the Common Application

The AXS Companion is now available for college-bound students to use!

College enrollment continues to decline while barriers for under-resourced students grow—but the AXS Companion to Common App, a new initiative by IECA, in partnership with Oregon State University, aims to reverse this trend by supporting these students as they begin their college journey.

Applying to college is already a complex and often stressful process, and first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students of color have faced even greater hurdles to college during the pandemic: reduced or no access to college and school counselors; limited opportunities to access information and resources due to school closures; and a lack of familiarity with the US college and financial aid application processes within their families.

According to Common App, approximately one-third of their million-plus annual applicants are first-generation students. These students are more likely to create Common App accounts without submitting applications because they “often lack familial and school-based guidance on how to navigate the complex admission waters,” according to a recent article on BestColleges.com. It continues: “Just last year, about 700,000 seniors who opened Common App accounts never completed an application.”

Seeing this disparity in access to higher education, a group of IECA members set out to make a change. The result is the AXS Companion, a free online resource that aims to improve access and clarity for under-resourced students who lack college counseling support. Through detailed videos, the AXS Companion walks students through each step of Common App from beginning to end. Alternatively, students can watch an individual section’s videos to understand how to best respond to that section based on their circumstances.

View this video to see samples of the AXS Companion and to learn more about the project:

How the Project Came About

Several years ago, Maite Halley, an IECA member who has been a leader in the association in several capacities, envisioned this project as live workshops to support under-resourced communities. During COVID-19, Marilyn O’Toole, IECA member and liaison to Common App, asked Common App leadership if IECA members could pivot and develop step-by-step videos for the initiative instead.

With Common App’s approval, O’Toole then engaged Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost at Oregon State University to discuss solutions to store and organize the video resources. This evolved into the collaborative framework of Oregon State University Ecampus building the platform, with IECA providing the content.

Left to right, clockwise: IECA members Jeffy Levy, Marilyn O'Toole, Pat Smith, Ibrahim Firat, Sylvia Jackman, Louise Franklin, and Jennie Kent.

Over the last eight months, many IECA members have worked tirelessly on this project, including: Ibrahim Firat, Louise Franklin, Carolyn Gelderman, Anne Holmdahl, Sylvia Jackman, Amy Jasper, Jennie Kent, Jeff Levy, Janae McCullough-Boyd, Marilyn O’Toole, Chantal Paiewonksy, Veena Rao, Pat Smith, and Juan Camilo Tamayo. These dedicated members produced the project content, which included writing and editing curriculum and scripts, as well as recording audio and video for 50+ modules for each section of Common App. Additionally, they called on experts in various fields to support their efforts, and created modules that provide financial aid guidance, essay suggestions, and admissions officers’ advice. The project creators chose the name The AXS Companion because of the double entendre: improving student access through the collaborative axis of higher education and IECA. The AXS Companion was introduced at the IECA 2022 Spring Conference in Philadelphia and is launching on September 1, 2022.

IECA is grateful to the members of the Oregon State University Ecampus who trained our colleagues to audio and visually record each section and then edited hours of their recordings, adding animation to make the directions and guidance clear. In addition, thank you to the engineers, graphic designers, animators, and project managers who have worked tirelessly to create this invaluable resource. 

Pictured above (left to right, clockwise): IECA members Jeffy Levy, Marilyn O’Toole, Pat Smith, Ibrahim Firat, Sylvia Jackman, Louise Franklin, and Jennie Kent.

New Year, Fresh Start

While many of us have already made—and broken—resolutions for the New Year, I wanted to offer a few ideas for independent educational consultants (IECs) still exploring goals and direction for 2022.

1. Establish a personal care plan.

No one—not a parent, teacher, or an independent educational consultant—can take on the concerns, anxieties, and emotional baggage of clients without a plan to care for their own emotional well-being. Explore some of the many mindfulness apps, begin a walking routine, join a book club—whatever works for you. Choose something that will help you escape the work you do. If you get into the habit NOW, it will already be part of your normal routine when the next busy season arrives.

2. Remember the personal care needs of your employees as well.

As we close in on the two-year anniversary of COVID-19, let’s also remember that your accountant, client-services rep, tutors, and essays specialist are also dealing with demands of work and disruptions to family norms. Think about offering flexible scheduling, time for exercise, and responsiveness to COVID-related scheduling changes, and resolve to give your team space to thrive.

3. Consider how rough it has been for so many people.

In addition to health care workers, many others are bearing relentless attacks by those who seemingly blame them for things well outside of their control. This includes food servers, teachers, store clerks, and airline workers. Let’s resolve to show some grace and offer words of affirmation to those whose work has become unpleasant.

4. Take advantage of technology in ways that make your life and your clients’ lives easier.

Talk about a win-win! Consider online payment platforms, meeting schedulers, offering digital resources, and using a new social media platform—just a few examples of technology use that ought to be on your radar this year.

5. Uncover ways that you can be a better IEC to under-resourced and under-supported communities.

This could take the form of pro bono work or volunteering with a community-based organization. It can also mean looking at ways you could do a better job understanding and responding to the changing face of adolescents. As America’s teens become more diverse, resolve to take coursework, get certified, and become more knowledgeable about inclusion—whether the differences are based in race, religion, sexual identify, physical disabilities, or neurodiversity. Becoming an advocate for the under-served or marginalized makes you a stronger IEC in your own practice and in educating peers.

6. Finally, get involved in your professional IECA community.

Become a mentor, request a mentor, learn a new specialty, attend an IECA conference, present a session or lead a discussion at a conference, join Affinity Groups, and become active in your Regional Group. This is how we make the profession and the association stronger. Resolve to recommend membership to an unaffiliated IEC. Let’s strengthen our community, together.

By Mark Sklarow, IECA CEO

A Legacy Obsolete

The families I advise are generally aware of legacy admission practices, but many are less informed regarding its origins and the degree of advantage that it affords them.

As an independent educational consultant who works directly with students who benefit from this policy, I can also vouch for the pressure, and even embarrassment, this adds to an already stressful process. Not unlike the Varsity Blues scandal, students are the ones caught in the crosshairs of outside influences and expectations that can infringe on and even deter the process of finding that perfect-fit college.  

Although increasing college access and diversity is a growing priority for colleges, I have found legacy admissions to be the proverbial elephant in the room. The contradictory policy of legacy status still appears to be considered sacrosanct by many postsecondary institutions. College admissions is subjective, and the institutional priorities that define who is admitted each year often place emphasis on varying qualities that are not associated with academic merit: athletics, ability to pay, etc. However, the notion that an advantage is granted to applicants based on historical ties to the college is completely unjust when considering our country’s painful history of denying postsecondary access to students based on race, gender, and religion. Many colleges have a page on their websites dedicated to a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, yet duplicitously maintain legacy status in the admissions process, giving a clear (non-merit-based) boost to more privileged populations. 

Dartmouth College is the notorious trailblazer of legacy admissions, first introducing the practice in 1922, with other colleges such as Yale following closely behind. The origins of using legacy in admissions are seeded in nativism and antisemitism, created to ensure that certain populations remained excluded. Selective colleges such as Harvard and Princeton have single digit admit rates for the general population, yet admit about a third of legacy status applicants. At Cornell University, legacy admits make up “around 15% of the student body,” almost five times that of the Black student population, or almost equal to that of the entire Black and Latino populations combined. Although colleges have confirmed that legacy admits are often academically qualified, competitive applicants, this practice has given additional privileges to an already affluent population, further compounding inequity in the admissions process and serving as a barrier to achieving higher rates of diversity at college campuses. Furthermore, those who promote the use of legacy admission say it guarantees loyal alumni giving; research shows there is no correlation.   

Amherst College is the most recent institution to end legacy admission preference, citing it as a policy “that inadvertently limits educational opportunity.” The College is also strengthening its financial aid programming in an effort to making an Amherst experience more affordable and accessible to all students. Amherst joins the ranks of colleges like MIT and the California Institute of Technology in creating a holistic approach to admission that does not factor in alumni connections.  

Although legacy status is just one aspect of a college admissions process already rife with advantages for the wealthy and privileged, eliminating it is one solid gesture that all colleges can take to “walk the walk” in their diversity, access, and inclusion efforts. I applaud Amherst College, and its predecessors, for having the courage to make bold changes to embrace a new legacy that embodies the visionary leadership our students and families deserve. Breaking with past practices is something we all must be willing to do to create meaningful change for the diverse populations of students that we are called to serve and advocate for as college access professionals. 

By Yvonne Espinoza, IECA (TX)

Yvonne Espinoza, Yvonne Espinoza College Counseling Services, can be reached at [email protected]

How to Navigate Vaccine and Mask Mandates with Your Students and Families

More than 18 months into the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to impact the landscape of college admissions and how life on campuses looks these days. With mask and vaccine mandates varying across the country—as well as the responses to them from prospective students and their families—many IECA members are looking for suggestions about how to guide parents and students through this tumultuous time. IECA Secretary/Treasurer Ibrahim Firat (TX) offers this perspective and advice.

Stay Informed about a College’s Mandates and its Political Climate

Our office is staying informed about college mandates/requirements by reaching out to current and past students (who are in college now) to hear what they are experiencing; reading the Chronicle of Higher Education’s up-to-date information about colleges’ vaccine mandates and other requirements; and staying in touch with admissions office contacts.

We rely on current/past student feedback, online forums, student-published media (newspaper, radio, podcast etc.), events on campus, and faculty-led research/publications to keep our pulse on the political climate of the college.

Provide Context for Vaccine Mandates

Just as size, location, academics, etc. are factors to decide where to go to college, so are rules/regulations/mandates. Vaccine mandates are not new, however; certain vaccines (i.e. meningitis) have been required by colleges for some time, so we start by reminding that this has been around. Secondly, we remind parents that their college-bound student is (or by the time they go off to college will be) 18+/adult and that it really is their decision to further pursue discussions with the school about mandates. Thirdly, colleges have been providing religious and/or health-related exemptions to mandates and that they can look into these options if necessary/applicable.

Continue to Guide Students and Families According to Best-Fit

There is a fine line between making this issue political and scientific versus completely college admissions or fit related. We do not get into the politics or the science of it as we are NOT the experts in those areas. We do get into the factors of selecting the right-fit college for the individual student/family’s values, and if certain school’s mandates are against those values, then it is simply an X rather than a checkmark next to that factor and we treat it as such. For some people, that X means everything; for some people that X is just another factor that may not fit them (i.e. size of campus/class size) and it may be okay.

College life on campus is shifting from all angles (i.e. living, dining, political climate, frats/sororities, etc.). How can we support families who are trying to find the best-fit college in this dynamic environment? It is a challenge, given that we still cannot visit most universities in person to gather updated info and get a feel for these “vibes.” But we must use the resources available to us to find the college that best matches the student’s educational, social, professional, and personal growth.

Ibrahim Firat, Firat Educational Solutions, LLC, can be reached at [email protected]

We Believe

With a new docudrama on the Varsity Blues Scandal coming out this month on Netflix, as well as potential legislation impacting independent educational consultants (IECs) in several states, the IECA Board recognizes that the general public may not understand what IECA is and what guides our actions. These “We Believe” statements are meant to complement our mission and values and demonstrate IEC’s ongoing commitment to all young people.

1) We believe all students should have access to individualized educational guidance that will help them achieve their goals.

2) We believe independent educational consultants should act respectfully, honestly, compassionately, ethically, and professionally with every student.

3) We believe in the potential of all students regardless of cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, sexual orientation, unique needs, or learning differences.

4) We believe that education should be available and affordable to all families.

5) We believe independent educational consultants are uniquely equipped to guide and support students toward their personal, academic, social, and professional goals.

6) We believe in the power of education to widen opportunities for everyone which will ultimately improve society for all.

 

Calling on Colleges and Universities to Permanently Adopt Test Optional Admissions Policies

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.