I am writing to you to advocate for my students in Georgia, hardworking students who have been impacted by COVID-19. The Class of 2021 has had their high school careers derailed. They have not been in class since March, and many are looking at an additional semester (if not more) of online learning. They’ve had endless activities taken away from them, including countless opportunities to sit for the SAT or ACT.
I strongly urge the University System of Georgia to go test-optional for fall 2021 admissions.
First, I want to applaud you and your board’s swift action to implement a test-optional policy for fall 2020. Your team made this decision five days after the March SAT was canceled. This quick change showed your compassion and care and revealed to your community that your institutions viewed students as more than a test score. When this decision was made, I was encouraged that you would show the same compassion and care for the Class of 2021, if conditions related to COVID-19 did not improve.
However, that has not been the case. Looking at test dates during junior and senior years, the Class of 2020 had 21 opportunities to take either the SAT or the ACT before the March SAT cancelation. Eleven dates for the ACT and 10 dates for the SAT, respectively, between the fall administrations of the class’s junior year and the February administration of the class’s senior year.
Allison Grandits helps high school students apply to college. She fears the ACT/SAT requirement at Georgia public colleges will send applicants to the many other campuses that have made the test scores optional in the wake of the pandemic.
The Class of 2021 has had eight opportunities to sit for these exams during that same time period (Fall of junior year to present). Even if no future date is canceled, the Class of 2021 will have fewer options than the Class of 2020 had before USG decided to go test-optional.
The Class of 2021 has only had one available administration of either the SAT or the ACT in 2020. It has now been 241 days since students were able to sit for an SAT (December 7, 2019). It has been 178 days since the last ACT administration that had no cancellations (February 8, 2020).
Since these test dates, hundreds of sites across the country have canceled administrations. For example, at the July 18 ACT, there were 79 sites in Georgia initially scheduled for the ACT. Fifty-five sites were on the “Closed” site list provided by ACT, representing 70% of all testing sites in Georgia. Only three sites were available within the 20 largest school districts. These numbers are comparable to the June ACT cancellations.
Additionally, five USG campuses were on the closed list: UGA, Georgia State-Newton, Fort Valley State, Savannah State, and Georgia Southern. If these USG campuses require these tests for admissions, why are they not offering tests?
This seems to show the schools are concerned about the potential dangers to their staff and institution of hosting an exam during an international pandemic, yet not concerned about the impact taking a 3.5-hour exam during a worldwide pandemic would have on high school students.
On July 27, ACT “opened” registration. After eight hours, ACT finally acknowledged its system was down for the day. The following day, ACT announced that registration would be delayed until Wednesday, and the Wednesday announcement told families that registration would open on Monday morning. They blamed the delay on a new website they launched and the “unexpected volume” their site encountered, but, regardless, people were furious. I had families spend hours trying to register, read reports of parents whose credit cards were charged despite the registration not going through. Here are a few additional accounts:
CNN- ACT Registration System
“Your Anguish is Justified”
When ACT opened registration, one of my Gwinnett County students received an email that he was automatically registered for the test at the nearest testing location to his home address. I wanted him to confirm his testing location. He spent two hours in the queue trying to view his registration ticket. He was registered for a test in Covington, 35 miles from his house.
If this is the closest test site to a student who lives in Suwanee, that means there are no test sites in Gwinnett, Forsyth, Hall, North Fulton, or Barrow counties for the September ACT. This same student has had cancelations of the May SAT, June SAT, June ACT, and July ACT. He has no scores, and, based on your current policy, he will be ineligible to apply to any public school in the state of Georgia.
But I guess he’s lucky since the ACT said the re-scheduled test site could be up to 300 miles from the student’s home address, and he only has an hour drive --assuming the test isn’t canceled before September.
Additionally, ACT did not give priority to the Class of 2021 for this registration. They said their system was incapable of doing so. However, they posted on social media that high school juniors should “be a buddy to your fellow seniors in need of scores for deadlines.”
As I am sure you are aware, many school districts are shifting to digital learning for part of the fall semester, including several of Georgia’s largest districts (Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Clayton and Atlanta). Test centers in these locations will continue to close since districts do not want to risk bringing in students who are potential carriers for COVID-19. In fact, at least one school that hosted the July ACT had students test positive for the virus.
Also, as I’m sure you are aware, the COVID-19 stats for Georgia are not improving:
Open Letter from Healthcare Workers
If you are worried about the reputation of USG from going test-optional, don’t be. At this point, more than 1300 institutions across the country are test-optional for fall 2021, including many competitors of USG, like the University of South Carolina, University of North Carolina System, Clemson, University of Tennessee, the Mississippi public colleges, among many others. You can view the full list here.
Based on the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings, every college ranked higher than Georgia Tech is test-optional. The University of Florida is the only college ranked above UGA and Tech still requiring the SAT or ACT for fall 2021. Georgia State is your next highest institution tied for 211, and 86% of schools above are test-optional. If anything, the rankings of these three schools will go down if USG does not go test-optional. Schools will receive fewer applications due to a lack of students with scores.
This move will cause the acceptance rate to go up, and selectivity will go down since the schools will still need to accept a comparable number of students to make their class. Schools will also see fewer applications since students without test scores will not be eligible to apply, which will hurt the revenue generated by application fees. If USG goes test-optional, schools will see an increase in applications and an increase in diversity of applicants, both of which I’ve heard as essential factors for many of your institutions.
If USG does not change its testing policy for fall 2021, thousands of qualified students will have to leave Georgia to attend college next year. We need action on this sooner rather than later, especially since many college applications to USG institutions opened this past weekend.
Please do the right thing. Show your Georgia families that you care about them, their health, their safety, and their mental well-being. Let them know you want them to succeed and attend one of the 26 great institutions that make up the University Systems of Georgia.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to seeing the action taken by you and your team.