Opinion: Don’t toss those ACT/SAT prep books yet

Before relieved high school students toss out their ACT and SAT prep books, they need to look closely at the announcement that most Georgia public campuses will waive the college admissions tests for students enrolling in the fall of 2023 through the summer of 2024.

First, the state’s premier and most selective campuses, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, will still require an ACT or SAT score for admission next year.

Second, test scores will still be necessary for students to earn the highest level of the HOPE Scholarship, the Zell Miller Scholarship. Zell recipients get full tuition covered if they graduate with a 3.7 GPA and at least a 26 on the ACT or 1,200 on the SAT.

The Legislature created two tiers of HOPE in 2011, fearing the growing cost of the popular program would outpace the revenues from its funding source, the Georgia Lottery. HOPE was once a college scholarship that could be distilled into one sentence: Earn a B average in high school, keep it in college and Georgia will pay your college costs. The current version of HOPE is more complicated and less generous, no longer covering books and fees and determined by available lottery revenues. (HOPE is now paying about 90% of tuition.)

Before high school seniors write off the exams, they also ought to consider that SAT or ACT scores may be required for other scholarship programs.

The value and predictability of standardized admissions tests spur heated debate on campuses, and some states have dropped them amid criticisms the exams favor affluent kids whose families can invest in test prep. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing says more than 1,800 campuses will be test-optional or test-blind for fall 2023.

As with Georgia, many state systems waived SAT and ACT requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have decided against reinstating them. The influential University of California system no longer requires them in admissions or scholarship decisions, even though a faculty review recommended the ACT and SAT remain a requirement of applicants to its 10 campuses.

Georgia did not make its latest decision based on a belief that high school transcripts are a better measure of student aptitude. It has not convened faculty for a discussion of whether these tests are necessary and helpful.

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, Chancellor Sonny Perdue cited a decline in college enrollment as well as “the threat of a lot of Georgia students going out of state” to colleges that don’t require the tests, as reasons for extending the waiver.

During a Thursday meeting with the Board of Regents, Perdue conceded high school grade point average can predict college outcomes but said grades and SAT/ACT scores together “are better than any one individually.” The USG will review how students admitted under test-optional policies have performed before rendering a final determination on whether to end the ACT/SAT requirement for good.

Here is the official explainer from the University System of Georgia:

The University System of Georgia will continue the temporary waiver of test score requirements for Academic Year 2023-2024 (Fall 2023, Spring 2024, Summer 2024) admission at 24 of the 26 USG institutions. The temporary waiver does not apply to the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia. For Academic Year 2023-2024, the remaining institutions have two options to make admission decisions:

Freshman index: Includes high school grade point average and test scores for either the SAT or ACT.

Test Optional: Use the high school grade point average on the required high school curriculum without a standardized test score at the following minimum grade point averages:

3.4 for research universities: Augusta University and Georgia State University.

3.2 for Georgia College and State University, Georgia Southern University, Kennesaw State University, University of West Georgia and Valdosta State University.

3.0 for state universities: Albany State University, Clayton State University, Columbus State University, Fort Valley State University, Georgia Southwestern State University, Middle Georgia State University, Savannah State University and the University of North Georgia.

State colleges (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Atlanta Metropolitan State College, College of Coastal Georgia, Dalton State College, East Georgia State College, Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia Highlands College, Gordon State College and South Georgia State College) continue to be test optional in accordance with Board policy.

Test scores continue to be required to apply for Zell Miller scholarships. The test optional path is not available for dual enrollment. Students applying for dual enrollment must still meet existing admissions requirements.