While it’s been a decades-long tradition for high school students to study and worry over their Standard Aptitude Test scores, they might not have to in the future.
The coronavirus pandemic altered many regular activities for people this spring, one of which being SAT testing. The College Board, which administers the test, announced in March it had canceled testing at its facilities to help social distancing protocols. The organization also announced it would begin a pilot program for at-home testing.
Then recently the College Board put a pause on at-home testing due to time and internet restrictions for students, according to a news release from the organization.
There will be additional SAT testing dates starting in August offered for students but there is still concern many students won’t be able to take the test.
“Even if all those exams are offered and students are able to take them, you’re still talking about a disruption in the testing landscape,” said Tim Wolfe, associate vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions at William & Mary.
As a result, William & Mary and colleges across the country are making standardized test scores optional for admissions in the next school year. That means students can submit their test scores if they’re able to but they won’t be penalized for not submitting scores.
Admissions at William & Mary are looking at a three-year pilot program to see if making standardized testing optional could be a permanent part of the application process.
“I think if folks feel like the implementation of this flexibility did not hinder the admission review process or have any unexpected results, I could see where more and more colleges will think about it as a permanent part of the process,” Wolfe said.
Standardized testing flexibility has started to become a trend in higher education in the past five years, with institutions like the University of Chicago announcing in 2018 it would no longer require the test scores for admission. But thanks to the pandemic, this trend is being pushed along even quicker, Wolfe said.
There are some concerns about whether or not students who take the test will have an advantage over those who do not, but Wolfe said that’s because many people believe the test scores are more important than they actually are.
Wolfe said there is a holistic admissions process at William & Mary that looks first at the academic success of the student in school and then at other factors that make the student stand out. While test scores are a part of that process, they don’t play as big a role as some might think.
Standardized tests in the past have been helpful to understand where students stand academically because schools across the country have different methods of grading, funding and class choices. But even with those factors, admissions counselors are still able to get a good feel for a student based on other application documents.
For example, Wolfe said if a student chose not to take the SAT test then they might want to provide additional recommendations or write the optional second admissions essay. All of these aspects are taken into consideration when looking at a student’s application so if they want to highlight an area they feel is strong, they have the opportunity to do so.
“It all gets back to providing more flexibility and control,” Wolfe said. “Letting them decide what they want to include and what will reflect their strengths as individuals.”
Wolfe said he isn’t sure how the testing landscape will continue to be altered by the pandemic but the opportunities for flexibility will give universities a chance to look at the role of standardized testing in the admissions process.
“I think a lot of change has happened and more could possibly still come,” he said. “It’s just a little bit of an unknown what [testing] will look like.”
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