State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, plans to introduce a bill during the 2021 legislative session to remove the SAT and ACT requirement to earn a Zell Miller Scholarship.
“With SAT and ACT exams being canceled across the country, it is time to revisit the 2011 decision to have a testing requirement for the Zell Miller scholarship,” said Wilkerson in a statement. “A student who graduated high school with a 3.7 GPA has already demonstrated academic excellence. A three-hour test should not be more important than 12 years’ worth of classroom work.”
Last week, the University System of Georgia waived its SAT and ACT test score requirements for spring, summer and fall 2021 admission to its 26 campuses due to uncertainty about the scheduling of SAT/ACT testing during the COVID-19 pandemic. But students still must have a test score to qualify for the Zell Miller Scholarship as that requirement was imposed by the Legislature; it is state law and can only be undone by the General Assembly.
When the Legislature pared back the HOPE Scholarship in 2011, it created a two-tiered HOPE Scholarship system. Now, students must have a 3.7 or higher GPA in high school and a 1,200 on the SAT or an ACT composite score of 26 to earn the highest level of HOPE, the Zell Miller Scholarship, which covers full tuition at a Georgia public campus.
Regular HOPE or HOPE lite still requires a 3.0 GPA with no test score component, but the amount of the award varies each year depending on available Georgia Lottery funds. It usually covers between 80% to 90% of tuition.
“On Aug. 25, the University System of Georgia made the right decision by waiving the SAT/ACT requirement for college admission,” said Wilkerson. “It is now time for the Legislature to do the right thing and remove the SAT/ACT requirement for the Zell Miller Scholarship. HOPE already has a course rigor requirement, and we do not need a test to let us know that these are our highest achieving students. The College Board, which administers the SAT, recently announced that almost half of the students who signed up for the August SAT have had their tests canceled. This is after more than a million students had tests cancelled in the spring due to the pandemic.”
Wilkerson said the bill “should have a decent chance now that students are having difficulty taking the exams.” But, he predicted, there would be push back due to the additional cost that would result from more students earning Zell Miller. Now, the ACT/SAT test score requirement keeps down the number of students who receive Zell. When the test score was made part of the Zell calculation, lawmakers cast it as a way to counter grade inflation.
Many high school students graduate with a 3.7 GPA or higher but are denied Zell because they don’t attain the required 1,200 on the SAT or 26 composite score on the ACT. The average ACT score for the class of 2019 was 21.4. The average SAT score was 1048.
“Personally I think it’s crazy that a student can only qualify for Zell when they graduate high school with a certain SAT/ACT. You could have a student graduate high school with 4.0 GPA and have a 4.0 GPA in college and never qualify for Zell, if they didn’t get a high enough SAT/ACT score,” said Wilkerson.
In the spring when COVID-19 forced the ACT and SAT to cancel test dates, the agency that oversees HOPE, the Georgia Student Finance Commission, extended the deadline to submit qualifying test scores this year for Zell until the end of December for students starting college now. Normally, those scores are due by high school graduation.
The commission hasn’t yet announced a testing extension for 2021 college applicants, said commission spokesman Chris Green. “Students can receive the HOPE Scholarship and then we can always award the Zell differential retroactively. Our team is working as fast as we can to address that.”
Test dates are still being canceled; the College Board showed 58 Georgia testing sites, mostly high schools, did not host scheduled August SAT tests.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com