Over a week later, some of my students have successfully registered for the ACT this fall. And I use the term “successfully” very loosely. One student got lucky enough to find a seat in California, but it’s three hours away from where he lives. His family is trying to decide if they should wake up at 4:00am and drive there and back on the day of the test, or if they should reserve a hotel room for Friday night. Another student couldn’t find a seat in California, so she’s taking the test in Oklahoma one month and Michigan the next. She has family she can stay with in each place, and high school is fully remote, so she doesn’t feel like it’s completely unreasonable.
And any juniors who have managed to get a seat for this fall are being asked to give up their seat for a senior who needs the test. But this is a confusing message to send next year’s seniors, considering that the only students who are not in a panic about testing this fall are the ones who signed up early and took their standardized tests at the beginning of their junior year.
You might be scratching your head as to why students are so desperate to take the SAT and ACT this fall when so many colleges have gone test-optional in response to this spring’s lockdown and subsequent canceled tests. Some students are responding to the tepid announcements from their top-choice college about going test-optional: that they would really like you to send test scores – any test scores – if at all possible. Teenagers can read between the lines and see that, if they want to be admitted, they’d better submit scores. Some students are recruited athletes who are still being required by the NCAA and member colleges to submit test scores with their applications. And the most depressing reason of all is that many of the colleges who have gone test-optional for their admissions decisions are still requiring test scores to qualify for scholarships.
In my dream world, colleges would have decided to go test-optional this year because they finally recognized that these are flawed tests that privilege students who already have all the advantages in this process. But I was willing to accept this path through coronavirus if it got colleges to come to the right conclusion. I can only hope that seeing how unnecessary the tests are this year will lead colleges to move to test-optional - or better yet, test-blind! – long term.
But what I cannot understand is how colleges can simultaneously acknowledge that students cannot reasonably submit test scores for their applications, but that students should be able to supply scores for scholarships. It seems fairly obvious that the majority of students who will have scores to submit this year are the students who least need scholarships. These are the students who can get a hotel room the night before their test, who can fly to another state to take their test, who had tutors and independent counselors that encouraged them to take the test months before their peers.
So if the tests are genuinely not feasible for applications, then they are equally infeasible for scholarships and sports. If colleges have made a decision to go test-optional this year, they should be test-optional for everything. And if they are not really test-optional, this is the time to say so, in clear language, at the top of their admissions webpage. This mixed message is not okay.