In April of 2020, standardized tests, including the SAT and ACT, were canceled or postponed around the nation, thus impacting some students’ opportunities to take what is usually a required test prior to applying to colleges. Standardized testing has long been used to measure students’ academic achievements, and it stands as a benchmark for colleges when admitting students into the institution. COVID-19, however, has changed some of the requirements for prospective students applying to colleges, and it has led admissions to question the true importance of standardized testing.
Albion College’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships Corey Grazul. helps build and maintain new projects; facilitates relationships with high schools; makes big policy decisions, like standardized testing; and guides students to future graduate programs.
Grazul plays an important role in helping the college decide just how essential standardized test scores are to prospective student admissions.
“The reality is that college in general has been talking about standardized testing in general for a long time, in terms of Iis this the best way to evaluate a students college readiness?’ And a lot of people think that is not,” said Grazul. “COVID-19 is an easy and convenient way for almost every college in the country to say, ‘We are going to go test optional because students can’t take the test.’”
Many schools made the requirement of a standardized test score an optional l decision for prospective students. This allows these colleges to still effectively recruit prospective students, many of whom don’t have access to take the ACT or SAT, during the pandemic.
Outside of making a standardized test score optional, colleges have created other alternative routes with regard to standardized tests to accommodate both prospective students and business for the college.
Some colleges decided to use the test blind method, which means that even if a student sends a test score, the college will not look at it. In this scenario, college admissions pay attention to other factors on the student’s application, including GPA, letters of recommendation or personal statements.
In the test optional route, meanwhile, a standardized test score is not a required part of the application unless a student’s GPA is below a 3.0. In that case, a testing score is required.
Grazul said Albion College is planning to use the test optional route where test scores aren’t necessarily required. He said that, for students who decide to submit a score, that score will be looked at to get a better understanding of the applicant, but it will not be the number one factor when deciding whether or not the student is admitted to the college.
This option, test optional, tends to be the most popular route for not just Albion, but other colleges as well.
According to Grazul, over 70% of applicants Applying to Albion last year did not send a test. Giving students the opportunity to take advantage of the test optional decision had major effects on the recruitment process and has had its own success within the college.
“This past year, we had one of the largest classes in the history of the college as freshmen last year, and I think it was due to a couple of factors,” said Grazul. “We had a ton of new applications and I think the test optional probably had something to do with it. Albion fit for what they were looking for in a college, it was easier for them to apply because test scores were not mandatory.”
Grazul also said that Albion has taken different measures to enhance their recruitment outside of standardized testing, such as increased marketing around the country, an increased media presence and increased advertising about academic quality at the college. There have been many factors that increased in the increase in applications, but Grazul said he has no doubt that the test optional method definitely helped with that.
To decide the effectiveness of going test optional, the college is looking to do a long term data test of maybe at least five years to analyze and decide whether it is best to keep it test optional even after the pandemic surpasses. The test optional policy is effective through fall of 2022.
Changing the requirements of standardized testing is also forcing the college to reevaluate its understanding of how successful standardized testing is as a measurement tool.
“This was a really weird year for data. Students left for reasons that were not academic reasons. Students left because they were feeling unsafe and some of them didn’t even come because of the pandemic, so when we try to look at data to try and look at if this was a good decision is really hard to pinpoint why students struggle or went test optional doesn’t necessarily mean it was tied to testing,” said Grazul. “It could have been anxiety, the stress of the module system, just anything could affect the data.”
Switching up the testing options in Albion has not only affected increase in applications and aided in the recruitment process, but it has also played a role in student satisfaction, academics and a chance for an equal chance in admission into college.
“This past year, we had the most diverse applicants in college’s history. and we enrolled in one of the most diverse classes in college history as well,” said Grazul.
Standardized testing also brings students’ personal challenges to light. Eliminating the requirement of standardized test scores in college admission eliminates one layer of inequality when it comes to the college application process as well.
“What we are finding with standardized testing is testing tends to impact students of color. To be frank, students in low income areas, students who do not have resources to prepare for testing,” said Grazul. “Preparing for standardized tests tends to benefit wealthier families and so I think it helped us reach out to a new and diverse class this year. So, that’s like an equity thing so Albion is trying to examine all of our policies about equity trying to make our college more equitable for students. Testing is one of those areas that we are trying to compensate for.”
Grazul said that working on the refinements of standardized testing requirements has shifted his personal viewpoint with regard to the importance of standardized testing.
“I’ve done so much research and looked at so many case studies of other schools,” said Grazul. “For example, the University of California, which serves, like, a million students, has gone test optional, and some colleges are planning to go test optional forever. Everyone is coming to the reality that testing isn’t the best option to evaluate students. Many institutions are really keen on making their institutions more fair and equitable for students across the board.”
Going test optional or test blind has a domino effect, however. It impacts not only students and their institutions of choice, but standardized testing companies as well.
“What’s really interesting is that the testing companies are businesses, and when all these colleges get together and say, ‘Hey, we are not going to use your test anymore,’ that makes the businesses kind of angry because they are losing businesses,” said Grazul.
Testing companies are then forced to find new and creative ways to make money and build customer relationships with colleges and students.
“Whether they give subject specific tests or offer different opportunities for colleges to work with them, it is kind of a new landscape,” said Grazul. “Just think, in the next ten years, if colleges go test optional forever, you’re going to see changes in what these testing companies are even doing or even if they exist anymore. ACT and SAT could be gone in the next ten years if no college is using them.”