October 20, 2021

Are Test-Optional College Admissions Policies Here to Stay?

A man is seen riding his bike with a mask on near the University of Oklahoma’s north oval on Sept. 3, 2020. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, universities mostly stopped requiring students applying for admission to submit an ACT or SAT score, as I reported recently in a story for Oklahoma Watch. The move made a lot of sense when virus outbreaks and precautions caused significant disruptions to test sites, including the cancellation of state tests in 2020, which included the college entrance exams given to all 11th grade students.

Universities across Oklahoma are now “test-optional,” including Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and the University of Oklahoma in Norman, according to a list compiled by FairTest.

Schools that don’t require a test score primarily look at applicants’ GPA, class rank and academic rigor, like whether they took advanced classes and four years of math.

At OU, one-third of the 2021 freshman class didn’t submit a score; at OSU, it was around 20%, Public Radio Tulsa reported. Both universities reported seeing a larger and more diverse pool of applicants.

“The test score barrier is both real and psychological,” explains Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, an advocacy organization that works to remove biases and misuses of standardized tests. In other words, not only do schools reject otherwise qualified applicants with poor scores, but requiring scores deters some from applying.

And, like many data points in education, ACT scores reflect family income. Here’s an interesting visualization showing income distribution by ACT score; a perfect score of 36 is at the top of the graphic and red is the top income bracket.

Question of the Week: Do you think college admissions should stay test optional? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you. As always, email and DMs open. Have a great week.

— Jennifer Palmer

In Focus

Oklahoma’s Average ACT Score Improves, But Participation Declined

Oklahoma’s average ACT score improved by one point but far fewer students took the exam. [Read More…]

What I’m Reading

  • About 120,000 children lost a parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19 — more than previously estimated. [AP]
  • Property tax disputes are leaving many Oklahoma school districts in limbo. [NonDoc]
  • Lawmakers studying the state’s teacher shortage and how to fix it. [Tulsa World]
  • Hot button issues like race and transgender students and pandemic frustrations are driving enrollment in conservative, Christian schools. [The New York Times]

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