Standardized Testing: Past, Present and Future

by: Kerry Lynch

September 29, 2020

Remember the old days when everyone who was applying to college took standardized tests and submitted their scores to admissions? Well, things sure have changed. It got me to thinking about where those tests even came from and, more importantly, what does the future hold for our students regarding college entrance testing. 

Interestingly, the tests that have become a symbol of restricted access and have been challenged for biases which limit student opportunities were developed to open up college access. The College Board, parent to the SAT was formed in 1920. The first SAT was administered in 1926 with the express intention of creating more access to college; a chance for students who did not attend elite high schools to demonstrate their cognitive abilities. In 1959, the ACT was created to compete with the SAT by providing an alternative measurement – content acquisition. However, the test became more like the SAT over time and today the tests are as similar as they have ever been.

By the time January of 2020 rolled around, there was a good size commitment and some strong lobbying from  and others to rid the admissions process of standardized testing.  Many colleges, just over 1,000, were test optional. With that model, a student was free to send in scores for consideration but was not required to submit scores. The University of California was being sued by students claiming the tests were discriminatory.  Inevitably, though, students were testing and feeling obligated to develop highly involved and expensive strategies if they were planning to apply to highly selective colleges. Test prep strategy could include a plan for both SAT and ACT testing to see which delivered better results followed by repeat testing with the preferred test and then more strategizing on score choice etc. It was a lot for a 16 year old and her family!

But more than lawsuits and lobbying, COVID-19 disrupted the admissions test process. In the wake of the pandemic, many colleges and universities have become test optional, which is not to say that test scores are unimportant to all institutions. Yet the list has grown to 1600 schools representing over two-thirds of the total of four-year institutions. Only a few schools have gone test blind, which means that they will not look at scores even if applicants submit them. Some have declared that their new testing policies are a permanent move, many more have said it is for one or two admissions cycles while they take stock and determine the best plan forward. 

What will the future hold? We cannot easily predict and our partners in admissions offices would say the same. One thing we do know is that it is important to stay on top of the information cycle. Plan for testing until it is clear that it won’t be needed at all. But, as always, keep up your grades and select appropriately rigorous courses – that has always been the most significant element of the admissions process.


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