Dr. Kent Ingle: Coronavirus may reveal college admission exams are nonessential for higher education

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Could this present pandemic be revealing to us that the majority of universities put too much weight on standardized tests for admission?

As president of Southeastern University, over the past decade I have seen more schools begin to seriously review the benefits of pulling SAT/ACT requirements or making them optional. The COVID-19 pandemic may very well be the stopping point for higher education to consider whether standardized tests should be the ultimate tool of measure for college admission.

For years, standardized tests have been the pinnacle for university admissions to determine a student’s academic success. Now, due to the impacts of the coronavirus and the nearly one million students who will be unable to take the SAT this year, more schools are dropping the SAT/ACT requirements for 2021.

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Already several universities are suspending standardized test requirements for adjustments to admission qualifications due to high schools across the nation that had to close early. As of this week, a total of 51 universities have suspended the requirements of standardized testing while many other schools are making these tests optional. The New York Times reported, some such as Boston University, Tufts and Northeastern have adopted an "optional testing policy."

As more institutions work to adapt to these unique circumstances, schools are finally beginning to consider, should standardized testing be the end all and be all of determining a student’s academic worth? Surely, it may be a significant determining factor for where a student currently stands. But over the years our nation has embraced these tests as the measure students are often held to when applying to their school of choice.

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Following the college admission scandal of last year, falsified SAT and ACT scores pressed universities to consider if too much emphasis was being placed on these standardized scores. Since last year, schools across the nation have been dropping the requirement of standardized tests. In fact, throughout last summer more than one school each week was announcing the removal of SAT/ACT requirements. A study published in the “Educational Researcher” journal, shows that a high school GPA can predict college graduation rates five times more accurately than ACT scores.

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Earlier this year, a study by Steve Syverson called "Defining Access: How Test-Optional Works" found that ending SAT/ACT requirements encouraged more applications and diversity for universities, without weakening schools’ graduation rates.

In addition to being an unfair assessment of a student’s academic capabilities, many universities have also found that these requirements can hinder universities from a more diverse enrollment. Last fall, The Washington Post published that many of the schools that had dropped the SAT/ACT admissions requirement to draw a more diverse group “reported that those efforts were successful.”

Now, more universities are beginning to see that standardized tests are not an entirely accurate reflection of a student’s academic success, let alone their full potential. At Southeastern University, while we do assess a student’s SAT/ACT scores, we holistically weigh out each student’s application. We consider their academic successes and achievements, their extracurricular involvements and whether or not they are at a place to take on the demands of higher education. Perhaps our standard for admittance should reconsider if there is only one measure for learning?

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Indeed, there is no cookie-cutter approach to learning and therefore no one way to determine a student’s academic potential. Yet, over the years, America’s system of higher education has bought into the idea that ACT and SAT scores are a strong indication of a student’s future academic success.

If anything, before we continue pushing forward with ideal standards that may be broken, this pandemic has caused us to take a moment to really weigh out how we determine the worth of a student’s academic potential.

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