Category Archives: Test Optional

Problems Associated with Test Optional Policies During a Pandemic

The Background

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 chair@nacacnet.org