Many highly selective schools have waived SAT and ACT requirements for 2021 applicants. Today, the University of Texas at Austin announced that high school students applying for fall 2021 admission will not be required to submit an ACT or SAT test score due to testing limitations.
Photo: AJC File
Photo: AJC File

Many places waive SAT and ACT requirements for 2021. Not Georgia.

The University System of Georgia is insisting its campuses continue to require ACT/SAT scores in the coming admissions cycle.

With its stance, USG is standing in a rapidly emptying room.

Every day more campuses conclude it’s unfair to ask applicants to submit standardized scores amid a coronavirus pandemic that’s disrupted high school classes and canceled ACT and SAT spring and early summer testing dates. In the last two days, the University of Texas at Austin and Emory University announced they will not require standardized tests for first-year applicants seeking to enroll in the 2021-2022 academic year.

At Emory, the policy applies to Emory College of Arts and Sciences and Oxford College, and all decision plans, including early and regular decision, and for consideration of all merit scholarships, including membership in any of Emory’s Scholar Programs. “As we continue to focus on greater access to higher education, the shift in policy equalizes the playing field for all students regardless of their testing circumstances,” says Kelley Lips, dean of enrollment services for Oxford College.

USG has told admission offices they must use ACT/SAT scores in the traditional way for the spring and fall 2021, although it said it will monitor the situation. I reached out to Tristan Denley, chief academic officer at the University System of Georgia, about the possible implications for Georgia public campuses of clinging to admission tests but have not heard back from him.

“Many highly competitive institutions — both public and private — have demonstrated that test-optional policies work,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). “Dropping ACT/SAT requirements generally increase the number of applicants, the overall academic quality of the applicant pool, and diversity of all sorts, including race, geography, first-generation status, family income, etc.”

FairTest is keeping count of campuses making test scores optional; more than 1,250 four-year colleges and universities now have ACT/SAT-optional testing policies for 2021.

As a college and career counselor at Roswell’s Fellowship Christian School, Lindsey Dean encourages the USG to adopt a test optional policy and soon to save students stress and parents possibly hundreds of dollars in test registration fees. “It’s late, but not too late for them to act,” she said.

A former admissions officer at the University of Georgia and the College of Charleston, Dean explained college-bound students begin taking the SAT and ACT in their junior year and may sit for the test six times to improve their scores. Student anxiety rose when spring and early summer test dates were canceled due to the pandemic, she said. Now students fear late summer and early fall testing dates could be at risk as the virus spikes, leaving some of them worried they won’t be able to meet USG admission criteria.

“If the University System of Georgia doesn’t make a judgment that it is going to be test-optional early enough, students who can’t test simply won’t apply,” Dean said. Also, students hoping to raise their scores by taking the exams another time may also be dissuaded from applying if they can’t retest before the early admission deadlines.

Citing the test-optional policies at many other public campuses, Dean said, “It is important to recognize that Georgia is an outlier in this and it feels like they are continuing to fuel the anxiety caused by high-stakes testing.”

Two scenarios worry college admissions directors here in Georgia. The first is that Georgia’s most accomplished high school students will find out-of-state institutions more accessible since colleges will likely admit more U.S. students as the pandemic decreases international applications.That could mean Georgia residents who would have chosen Georgia Tech or University of Georgia could see their odds of admission and their financial aid packages from other selective colleges improve.

Rick Clark, admissions director at Georgia Tech, looked at the 10 top schools that accepted Georgia high school seniors choose to attend over Tech. What he found worries him.

“Nine of the 10 schools that Georgia Tech loses students to are now test optional,” said Clark.

Conversely, students from states where flagship campuses have waived the SAT/ACT – such as New Jersey and Illinois, both of which send many students out of state — may not want to sit for a long admissions test that only Georgia demands.

“Even from the narrow perspective of competition with other institutions, the Georgia Regents are doing the equivalent of cutting off their noses to spite their faces. With so many other high quality public university flagships — University of Virginia and William & Mary, Penn State, University of Delaware, Rutgers-the State University of New Jersey — already adopting test-optional policies for fall 2021 admissions and, often, beyond, Georgia schools will be at a competitive disadvantage in attracting talented applicants who recognize that the ACT/SAT are unfair, inaccurate measures of academic potential,” said Schaeffer.

In April, the ACT and College Board said they would develop at-home tests for the fall since social distancing ruled out mass testing centers. However, the College Board announced earlier this month that the technology and equity issues around at-home testing proved too daunting, saying in a statement: “Taking it would require three hours of uninterrupted, video-quality internet for each student, which can’t be guaranteed for all.”

The suspension of ACT/SAT requirements by colleges comes as critics argue the tests measure family income and parent education rather than student merit. Their efforts saw a big boost last month when the influential and well-respected University of California system voted to phase out the controversial exams.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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