Editorial: Test-optional is the only option


Margaret He

Standardized testing is simply another barrier for students to scale in their journey to higher education. Art by Margaret He.

Margaret He, Co-Editor-in-Chief

On Sept. 1, a judge in California ordered that the University of California system discontinue use of standardized testing in admissions this fall; in other words, UC schools will not accept test scores for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. While those in higher education have long acknowledged that standardized testing does not provide a complete representation of a student’s academic performance, the SAT and ACT have nonetheless remained a required and integral part of the college admissions process in years past. However, in the face of testing cancellations spurred by COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of students have been barred from taking exams, which has caused an increasing backlash against the use of standardized test scores in the review process. In response, most colleges around the country have gone test-optional this fall, removing requirements for test scores and telling prospective students that the absence of a test score on their application will have no negative ramifications. Although such policies represent prudent responses to the impact of the pandemic, the controversy surrounding the use of test scores make the permanent implementation of test-optional requirements a valuable consideration. COVID-19 provides a valuable opportunity to reconsider a historically acceptable but inequitable college application process. 

Notably, the pandemic has exacerbated existing equity issues that plague standardized testing. Access to tutors, specialized classes and study resources have consistently been a topic of contention since those who can afford more, receive more, and thereby tend to perform better on standardized tests. Because tests such as the SAT and ACT aren’t measures of concrete knowledge and are more skill-based, students who can afford more time to practice the test format have an advantage. Now, in light of cancellations spurred by COVID-19, further disparities are created based on unequal access to testing and familial capacity to travel to far-reaching areas where tests are still being held. Tests in Democratically-aligned states, such as Washington, have been cancelled on a widespread basis, whereas centers in Republican states such as Idaho remain open. Thus, access to testing varies based on the area in which one lives and also on one’s financial ability to travel long distances if need be. These are uncontrollable factors for students and should not negatively impact them in the college admissions process. To some degree, such issues can be expected to remain relevant after the pandemic, as access to testing centers and resources will undoubtedly remain a problem for many students even after the pandemic’s end. Therefore, by going test-optional, colleges can bypass such obligations that create pervasive inequalities in the admissions process. 

Moreover, going test-optional could provide students the opportunity to showcase their strengths, especially when they don’t excel at standardized testing. Standardized testing measures a specific type of academic achievement and fails to accommodate for abilities that may not be measured through such a specific format. By removing stigmas and emphasis on testing as a prerequisite for admission, students can approach the application in a more well-rounded way that presents their individual skills. Making the admissions process test-optional provides more flexibility, allowing students who succeed at such tests to continue to use them advantageously, while students who struggle can stand out through other means. Although one could argue that standardized testing provides a helpful baseline for demonstrating academic success, simply using and focusing on the regulation of state tests that require no additional fees or methods of preparation can help to preserve a way to compare students in an equalized manner. 

Although a frustration to many students and test-takers, the COVID-19 pandemic provides universities and colleges with an opportunity to reevaluate the admissions process. By removing standardized testing as a requirement, institutions can ensure that every student has an equal access to opportunities in higher education. In considering the individuality and unique background of every student, going test-optional is simply a must.