Editor’s note: In August 2020, NACAC released a report urging colleges and universities to examine their policies and practices concerning standardized tests and their potential impact on equity and access. This column is the first in a series of articles reflecting on the report’s recommendations and offering insight into the current state of standardized admission testing.
The decision most colleges made to go test-optional last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic was the right one to get us through an unprecedented crisis. But such a fundamental shift in college admission left a great deal of uncertainty in the minds of students and counselors alike. As a test center, Albuquerque Academy, an independent day school in New Mexico, worked hard to offer the SAT and ACT as soon as we could safely do so.
But telling the story of how one remarkable and dedicated colleague was able to orchestrate our first testing date after the state shut down raises again the question voiced last year by the NACAC Task Force on Standardized Admission Testing for International and US Students in its report: What is the real cost of standardized testing, and who bears the burden?
NACAC joined several education organizations this week in calling for changes to the way college rankings are calculated by one of the nation’s largest publishers of such information.
The effort was organized by New America — a think tank based in Washington, DC — which published an open letter to the editors of US News & World Report asking them to end the practice of including the average SAT and ACT scores of incoming students in their Best Colleges calculations.
“Using average scores of incoming students to rank an institution has never made sense, but is even more preposterous during a deadly pandemic,” notes the letter. “…At the same time, a rise in test-blind and test-optional admissions policies has made it difficult to compare institutions using this metric.”
An oft-forgotten yet important subsection of college and university programs are those that take place in prison. While these programs provide prisoners with an otherwise unachievable education, many have problems that prevent prisoners from accessing equitable higher education. These prison programs often are considered selective, with applicants having to prove their worth through standardized tests, essays, and even proof of extracurricular activities. These requirements can be difficult for the average student to meet, let alone an incarcerated student. Recognizing these problems, Erin Corbett and Second Chance Educational Alliance, Inc. (SCEA) created a three-principled framework to help transform these outdated prison programs into more equitable ones.
Reconceptualize an admission process that accounts for incarcerated student access to time, information, and opportunity
Broaden partnerships with community-based organizations to ensure community representation in the admission and enrollment process
Implement an open and rolling admission timeline
Create an application process that centers on portfolio assessments rather than GPA or standardized test scores
Imprisoned students are often enrolled in life skills programs that provide certifications upon completion. These certificates can be used in place of more traditional guideposts of student success.
Shift assessment and program models to leverage a competency mastery model
Root curricula and credentials in competency mastery rather than credit hours
Project based learning is an excellent way for students to connect with their studies and demonstrate mastery
Implement and strengthen avenues to award credit for prior learning
Dismantle college-in-prison programs that do not accept credits for prior learning
Award credit though Prior Learning Assessments (PLA)
Using PLAs in prisons have shortened the average degree completion time and resulted in a 43 percent graduation rate compared to 15 percent in programs not using PLAs
Waive prerequisites that would normally increase time-to-degree completion
Use PLA credits to meet general education and program/major requirements
Fund programs that award credit for prior learning
Authors of the framework hope that by better serving minority populations in prison, previous practices that have historically only benefited the privileged will be upended.
NACAC Research Associate Cameron Hair welcomes comments and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Test-optional policies have become popular among institutions of higher education in recent years, whether due to holistic admission policies or as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. While many celebrate the increase of test-optional admission policies as a win for equitable admission, authors Dominique J. Baker and Akil Bello highlight three major problems associated with the quick adoption of these policies. The authors also break down recommendations for both policymakers and practitioners that may help blunt the negative impacts they believe test-optional policies have on students.
Problems with Test-Optional Policies
The first problem highlighted by Baker and Bello involves requiring standardized testing to graduate high school. Even though many colleges and universities are going test-optional, 25 states require a standardized test to receive a high school diploma. However, due to the rise in test-optional policies as a result of the pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult for students in these states to schedule these exams.
The second problem associated with test-optional policies in the age of coronavirus involves the swiftness with which decisions to go test-optional were made. These decisions are being made at faster speeds than ever before, which does not allow significant time for colleges and universities to prepare for the change.
The last problem with these policies involves the new reliance on student’s prior academic performance. As academic grades have been completely upended due to coronavirus, using these grades as predictors of college success no longer is viable.
Recommendations for Practitioners
Ensure that initial screening policies do not make negative assumptions about those who do not submit tests compared to those who do submit.
Research suggests that taking standardized tests multiple times correlates with an increase in scores. Minority students take standardized tests at lesser rates than white students, indicating that at least some of the score differential between white and minority students could be caused by familiarity with the standardized test.
Address the relationship between test scores and merit aid
The best approach would be to adopt a test blind policy when awarding scholarships.
Ensure that all policies involving test score use is transparent and inclusive.
Recommendations for Policymakers
Certain states need to revisit the standardized test requirement for high school graduation. With coronavirus still rampant, it is unlikely that students will be able to meet this requirement.
State Boards of Education should consider a systematic way to communicate grade changes from the most recent academic term.
Underfunded schools likely do not currently have this capacity.
States should create a single database of grading changes that occurred during the Spring 2020 semester that can be made available to admission professionals.
State Boards of Education should create better communication practices with colleges about the impact coronavirus has on different communities.
This context allows admission professionals to access contextual information while evaluating students.
State Boards of Education should provide coronavirus-related sickness and death rate information linked to the nearest high school or college. This would increase time for review as well as provide insight into the struggles students face during the pandemic.
NACAC Research Associate Cameron Hair welcomes comments and story ideas at email@example.com
Starting next fall, students will be able to retake single sections of the ACT.
The testing company announced the change earlier this week as part of a slate of new options for test-takers.
“For the first time in the 60-year history of the ACT test, students who have already taken the test will be allowed to retake individual ACT section tests (English, math, reading, science and/or writing), rather than having to take the entire ACT test again,” officials announced in a press release.
Free test prep materials will soon be available online for students preparing to take the ACT.
The Iowa-based testing company announced this week that it would launch ACT Academy in the spring. The platform will include video lessons, interactive practice questions, full-length practice tests, and educational games.
Each student will receive a personalized study plan based on their scores from the ACT test, the PreACT, ACT practice tests, or diagnostics completed within the ACT Academy platform.
New policies unveiled this week by ACT and The College Board will reduce the fees low-income students encounter in the college admission process.
Starting in September, students who use a fee waiver to register for the ACT will be able to send up to 20 free score reports to the institutions of their choosing. Previously, ACT test-takers were allotted only five free reports, with each additional transmission costing $13.
Under the new College Board policy — which goes into effect next spring — low-income students who take the SAT will be able to send unlimited score reports to colleges. Previously, low-income SAT test-takers were allotted up to eight free score reports, with additional transmissions costing $12 each.