High school students rethink SAT, ACT tests as colleges change admissions processes – press enterprise
For decades, standardized test scores have been a key benchmark in college admission decisions. But now high school students must decide whether to invest their education time and money to pass the SAT and ACT exams or potentially miss out on a way to shine among the applicants.
While there have been discussions for some time about the fairness of the use of standardized tests in the admissions process, the need not to assemble students in exam rooms during the pandemic has made eliminating their use last year was a straightforward decision for most college students.
UC and Cal State systems recently announced that they will continue to disregard standardized test scores in admission or scholarship decisions, but many private schools say they have made submission of results optional.
This gray area in the admissions process has left many high school students confused as to whether they should take the exams.
For Melissa Medina, a senior at Orange High School, who mainly applies to UC and Cal State schools, the decision hasn’t been too difficult. The colleges she targets will not take her grades into account even if she has passed the exams.
“When I heard that schools were keeping the tests optional, I was relieved,” Medina said. “I have always believed that standardized tests limit the potential of many students and label them. Just because you’re not a good candidate doesn’t mean you can’t do more.
But the decision is not that easy for those interested in private or out-of-state colleges. When universities say they are ‘test electives’ do they really mean it? If schools use scores if they allow them to assess applications, there is always pressure to take exams and keep options open for their future education, the students said.
The SAT has long been criticized because studies indicate that applicants from wealthier families tend to score higher. Opponents of the test called it “discriminatory,” saying the success of students from high-income backgrounds stems from their ability to pay for test preparation programs – something many low-income families cannot. afford to do.
Enrolling in colleges can already be expensive.
It costs $ 55 to register for the SAT and $ 85 to take the ACT with writing.
On top of that, the average college application fee is $ 43; UC system schools charge $ 70 per school. Stanford University charges applicants $ 90.
So if a student were to apply to five colleges and take the SAT or ACT once, they would face hundreds of dollars in fees. And once they get into a school, the tuition doesn’t come cheap.
The voluntary testing movement began when the pandemic first struck. High school students had nowhere to take exams when schools, many of which also functioned as exam centers, closed in March 2020.
The tests weren’t suitable for a home format, so many high school kids last year simply ignored them. Some traveled to states with fewer restrictions to take the tests, but they were in the minority.
Most testing centers reopened in early 2021 for this year’s seniors – allowing them multiple dates to take the SAT or ACT before most private college applications are due in January. They will have to choose to take the exams or send applications without grades.
Medina said she originally planned to rent a book to study until she learned that providing sheet music would be optional. Now she is using her study time to focus more on community volunteering and writing her personal essays.
“Now that I don’t have to worry about test results anymore, I can really show who I am. I can show what kind of a student I am in other fields, ”she said. “It says a lot more than just a score.”
But Adam Hewitt, senior at Orange Lutheran High School, was disappointed that public colleges in California did not factor standardized test scores into their admissions decisions.
Hewitt had an almost perfect score on the ACT. Although he is happy with his GPA, he said “it’s not as high as other kids” and hopes to make up for it with his ACT score.
“I feel like I was somewhat at a disadvantage for this, but I also fully understand why it’s optional. I fully support him, ”Hewitt said. “Because I have friends who I know might do well and they couldn’t even take it.” “
What the colleges are saying
Standardized tests are so much a part of the admissions culture that it’s strange not having to study for them anymore, Medina said.
Some of her friends are still planning to take the SAT or ACT to see if they are doing well, she said. If they get a score that they are happy with, they will submit it to increase their chances; if they are not successful, they will not.
But for UC candidates, this strategy will not work. Scores will not be considered when evaluating applications, said UC Irvine Executive Director of Admissions Dale Leaman.
“We don’t see their scores at all – no matter what they do or what they took – when we make our admission decision,” Leaman said. “The only time you’d see those scores is after they’ve accepted our offer of admission. “
SAT and ACT scores can still be used to place students in classes or to meet general education requirements, Leaman said.
The Cal State system has suspended the use of SAT and ACT scores to make admissions decisions at least until fall 2023, spokeswoman Toni Molle said. It can also use scores to place enrolled students in classes.
“The CSU is currently evaluating the future use of standardized test scores in first-year admissions with internal and external stakeholders,” Molle said.
But there are also private schools and schools outside the state that some students have on their list of interest. The majority made the tests optional, leaving applicants to hope for a high score to improve their chances of admission.
These schools are a big reason why Hewitt’s peers keep taking the tests, he said.
Occidental College and USC, both located in Los Angeles, will take elective tests this year.
“Applicants will not be penalized or disadvantaged if they choose not to submit SAT or ACT scores,” the USC website read. “The USC student selection process has always been holistic and we are confident in our ability to identify student potential using the totality of what is presented to us. “
The eight Ivy League schools and Stanford also let applicants choose whether or not to submit test results.
The California Baptist University at Riverside is using the setbacks of the pandemic as an opportunity to experiment with the “blind test” until fall 2023.
“We will collect data to study the impacts, if any, of being ‘blind to the test’ and then come up with a longer term solution afterwards,” Dean of Admissions Taylor Neece said in an e- mail.
No more pandemic changes
Reluctance to take the optional test isn’t all that’s new for this year’s high school students hoping to perfect their graduate plans.
University visits, this rite of passage for so many people, have moved into the virtual sphere. Most universities have just started opening their campuses to students enrolled this fall.
“While it may be too early to say which practices will stick around indefinitely, the pandemic has helped catalyze innovations by providing virtual support,” said Molle, who works in the Cal State Chancellor’s Office. “In some cases, new practices can be combined with traditional practices to provide more options for incoming students and families to learn more about CSU campuses.”
The online menu of tours, briefings, orientation meetings and advisor conferences is here to stay – at least for this year, officials from several universities have said.
“I like that when the time came, colleges knew they had to change and gave students virtual options. Almost all of them are free and travel can be expensive, ”Hewitt said.
With the help of online programming, seniors can make more informed decisions when choosing where to engage, Hewitt said.
Of course, the interactive online experiences are not the same as being physically on campus, said Hewitt, who has visited several colleges in person. But that’s a step up from just looking at the photos posted.
Level the playing field
With no standardized test scores to display and new ways for students to engage online, the college admissions process is changing rapidly.
“People who come from higher income families really have more opportunities to prepare,” said Medina. “They had more resources to help them with the application process, to help them with the SAT process. But now it is no longer from the table.
And although the admission requirements are different, some things will remain the same. Fred Lentz, co-founder of the non-profit Advance !, based in La Habra, said that “children who are going to do well before, they will do well after”.
Lentz, a retired high school teacher who has worked with many underrepresented students, said taking tests is a skill many students lack the resources to learn. He said he was happy that other aspects of an application, such as personal statement, letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities, carry more weight now that SAT and ACT are optional.
“We had a student, she spent four years sleeping on the floor in the bedroom, studying with a flashlight. She got a 4.6, now she’s going to Berkeley, ”Lentz said. “Tell me SAT and ACT are a better definition of his chances of success than I told you.”