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Education Station: Colleges getting rid of SAT/ACT requirement for enrollment amid COVID

The pandemic has caused many SAT/ACT testing sites to close, prompting colleges and universities to allow students to submit personal achievements instead.

CLEVELAND — The pandemic has had another unexpected educational side effect. A growing number of colleges and universities are no longer requiring SAT/ACT tests for enrollment. 

"School districts were shutting down and moving to remote learning, and there was a lack of availability for SAT/ACT test sites, especially in communities of color," says Jonathan Wehner, Dean of Admissions at Cleveland State University.

Thousands of colleges and universities across the country have dropped the SAT/ACT requirement, including Cleveland State and Case Western - becoming “test-optional”. Students are allowed to opt out of taking the SAT/ACTs, and, instead, submit materials they believe represent them best.

"I think having it be optional is a relief to most students. I have strong letters of recommendation. I have my grades and the programs I’m in that can help me gain exposure," says STEM High School senior Cailan James-Smith, who wants to go to Akron University - also a test-optional school. James-Smith is opting not to take the SAT/ACTs.

Supporters of the elimination of the standardized tests, like local radio personality Jimmy Malone, who has his own scholarship fund for local students, say test-optional colleges help level the playing field.

"I’ve had kids who did not do well at all on the SAT/ACT, but they get to college and they’re able to not just get through it, but get through it with honors. That shows that they have a determination to succeed," says Malone.

But many believe there’s still a place for the SAT/ACTs.

"I hope that it takes some of the pressure off around high-stakes testing, but that we don’t lose sight of what some of the value of what the SAT/ACT might be - a reliable nationwide standard that we can evaluate students for, making sure students are in the right courses when they come to a college or university," says Wehner.

But "test-optional" seems to be the wave of the future. A recent FairTest poll published in the New York Times shows that about 45% of schools didn't require SAT/ACT scores before the pandemic. Today, it's nearly 80%.

"Many of those students who we don’t have test scores for, they’re terrific students. They’re very bright, they’re very engaged. Tests can not always determine a student's level of drive and commitment," says Richard Bischoff, Case Western's Director of Student Enrollment. 

Both CSU and Case Western will review their "test-optional" model each year during the pandemic. For now, the SATs and ACTs will be optional at least through the end of 2023. Some schools even going the route of being "test-blind" - where even if a student chooses to take the SAT/ACTs, those scores are not considered at all.

*Editor's Note: The video in the player above is from a previous report.