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Staff Photo By C.B. Schmelter / University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd speaks during a UT Board of Trustees meeting in the Tennessee Room at the University Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2020.

If you want to go to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for the next few years, you can ditch the SAT prep sessions, forget about filling in circled answers on your ACT and won't have to waste a Saturday morning when you could be sleeping.

The school announced Thursday that ACT or SAT scores would be optional for admission through the 2025 fall admissions cycle.

"Though we believe admissions tests do provide additional validity to our decisions, we also understand the tests are just one part of a student's story," Fabrizio D'Aloisio, associate vice provost for enrollment management and executive director of undergraduate admissions, said in a news release. "This five-year test-optional policy will allow us to collect data and assess how effective admissions tests are for our population of students."

Since many schools and testing centers around the country were closed during the coronavirus pandemic last year, some 1,600 colleges and universities in the fall of 2020 made standardized tests optional for entrance.

UT moved to a test-optional application process in July 2020, with 9,000 prospective students applying without the scores, but until Thursday hadn't extended that action.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will not mandate standardized tests for fall admission this year, but the school will require a higher high school grade point average (3.0) to be considered for admission instead of a 2.85 grade point average (GPA) with an 18 ACT score (or equivalent SAT) or a 2.5 GPA with a 21 ACT score (or equivalent SAT).

Some private colleges had eliminated the standardized test requirement before the coronavirus, saying indicators such as high school GPA, academic transcript and class rank were enough.

Others consider such tests discriminatory.

In announcing its test-optional decision in 2019, Colorado College said some recent studies had "increasingly made clear the cultural, social and economic biases of test design. This also includes access to preparation materials such as study guides and prep courses. Such design and preparation strategies can have a significant impact on scores, with the results being standardized test scores tend to be higher for wealthier students and for white students."

Leslie Cornfeld, founder and CEO of the National Education Equity Lab, an organization that helps low-income college students get into college, told Inside Higher Ed in March that programs in which high school students take dual enrollment college courses are among the standardized test alternatives that "provide a demonstration of college readiness."

"I think we have known for quite some time that standardized tests like the ACT and SAT can mask talent in the Black and Latino communities," she said.

That opinion is not shared by everybody. In fact, some say standardized tests allow minority students to show what they can do, especially if they come from less rigorous high schools.

UT says students still can choose to submit ACT/SAT scores but that those who don't will have the ability in their application to show their academic and nonacademic talents, including leadership, community engagement, critical thinking and intellectual curiosity.

In Tennessee, access to the standardized testing is not the problem it may be in other places. While students are required to take a postsecondary readiness test like ACT or the SAT to graduate, the state offers the ACT at no charge for high school juniors during their spring semester and again during the fall semester of their senior year.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson said he thought UT's move was "the right step as regarding the pandemic" and that it will be "interesting" and "intriguing" to "see how that group [admitted without standardized tests] is doing."

He said the state's push toward all secondary students reaching a 21 on the ACT test "is still a focus for us," and he doesn't see a move away from standardized testing for college entrance being "a precursor" for ending standardized testing in K-12 public education.

But, Johnson said, "it warrants everybody taking a deeper look at what we might be doing, what we might not be doing" about "unnecessary additional hurdles" for students to enter some academic programs.

The pandemic has offered a wider testing ground for subjective entrance to college admission, and it is likely to be embraced by private colleges and universities that can be choosy about their students and their qualifications.

It may be more difficult for large public universities, whose staffs and time in considering potentially thousands of applicants without standardized test scores may be limited. We can also envision lots of phone calls — and probably lawsuits — that ask, for example, why only one of two students with the same GPA and similar extra-curricular activities was admitted, and one not.

As such, we don't see the ACT, SAT and their like disappearing anytime soon.

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