US Universities Reinstate SAT and ACT Requirements, Sparking Equity Debate


When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, it disrupted numerous aspects of daily life, including the college admissions process. With testing sites for the SAT and ACT closing, around 2,000 higher education institutions in the United States adopted test-optional or test-free admissions policies.

This shift aimed to alleviate the stress on prospective students and accommodate the new realities of pandemic-era education. Interestingly, this change resulted in a significant increase in applications and enrollments from underrepresented communities, providing a broader pool of students the opportunity to pursue higher education.

US Universities Reinstate SAT and ACT Requirements, Sparking Equity Debate

(Photo : PEXELS / Andy Barbour)

The Return to Standardized Testing: Motivations and Criticisms

As the immediate threat of the pandemic has receded, some prestigious universities and state institutions have reinstated SAT and ACT requirements. Schools like Brown University, Dartmouth College, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Tennessee have cited standardized tests as reliable indicators of potential academic success. They argue that high test scores can help highlight the abilities of under-resourced students, potentially increasing diversity by making their applications stand out.

However, this move has faced significant criticism. Opponents argue that standardized tests predominantly benefit affluent, white students who have greater access to preparation resources and can afford multiple test attempts. Research has consistently shown that SAT scores correlate more strongly with a student's socioeconomic background than with their academic potential. Critics fear that reinstating these requirements could reverse the gains made in diversifying college campuses during the test-optional period. Furthermore, some academics warn that the reinstatement of standardized tests, along with the recent Supreme Court ruling banning affirmative action, could exacerbate racial inequalities in higher education.

READ MORE: UT Austin To Reinstate Standardized Testing Requirement For Fall 2025 Admission 

Navigating the Path Forward: A Holistic Approach

The debate over standardized testing underscores a broader conversation about fairness and access in college admissions. Historically, the SAT has roots in racial biases, designed initially to favor certain demographic groups over others. This legacy continues to impact admissions today, as demonstrated by studies showing that standardized test scores often reflect family income and race more than a student's academic abilities.

Despite the controversy, many institutions are exploring alternative approaches to admissions. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have maintained their test-optional policies, recognizing that standardized tests do not fairly assess the potential of Black and brown students. These schools have found that a more holistic review process, emphasizing grade point averages and other achievements, can better promote diversity and inclusion.

A growing number of researchers advocate for this holistic review approach, suggesting that it offers a more equitable way to evaluate students. They recommend that colleges and universities consider their missions and analyze application and enrollment data to ensure they are admitting diverse student bodies. By focusing on a student's overall performance and potential rather than their ability to perform on a standardized test, institutions can create a fairer and more inclusive admissions process.

Rethinking College Admissions for Greater Equity

The reintroduction of standardized testing by some institutions has reignited debates about equity and fairness in college admissions. While proponents argue that tests are necessary for identifying talented students from under-resourced backgrounds, critics highlight the inherent biases and inequalities these tests perpetuate. As colleges and universities navigate these complex issues, many are finding that a holistic admissions process, which takes into account a range of student achievements and backgrounds, may offer a more inclusive path forward.

Ultimately, creating a more equitable higher education system involves looking beyond traditional measures of merit. Investing in historically underfunded institutions like HBCUs, community colleges, and tribal colleges can help build a diverse and inclusive academic landscape. By rethinking admissions policies and focusing on the broader goal of access and equity, higher education institutions can better serve all students, regardless of their background or financial means.

RELATED ARTICLE: Critics Alarmed By Standardized Testing Comeback Amid Yale And Dartmouth's Mandate Decision 

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