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Colleges Go Test-Optional After SAT, ACT Are Called Off

LA Johnson

Updated at 2:26 p.m. ET.

In mid-March, as schools across the country began to close, aspiring college students got big news: Spring ACT and SAT tests were being called off amid concerns about the spreading coronavirus. Now, a growing list of colleges have announced they're going test-optional for the class of 2021, meaning the SAT or ACT will not be required for admission. Those schools join a pool of about 1,000 U.S. colleges that have already dropped the standardized tests from admissions requirements, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, an advocacy group that has long been critical of standardized testing.

Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland was one of the earliest schools to use the coronavirus as a catalyst for change. Rick Bischoff, who oversees enrollment there, told NPR last weekthat the school had been discussing going test-optional, in part because of how it has been shown to improve equity. Bischoff said Case Western Reserve was planning to make a final decision in a year or so, but the disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak moved that decision up: "Understanding how much turmoil this is injecting into the process, it's just so clearly, in our view, the right thing to do."

More than a dozen colleges have dropped testing requirements because of the pandemic, according to reporting from Inside Higher Ed. On Wednesday, the University of California temporarily suspended testing requirements. Other schools, like Tufts University outside Boston and Davidson College, a small private school in North Carolina, are trying out a test-optional policy for the next three years. "The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented obstacles and disruptions for everyone, including young people pursuing their academic and life aspirations," Chris Gruber, who oversees admission and financial aid at Davidson, wrote in a statement.

It's unclear if these new admissions practices will stick, but some schools — including the University of Oregon and Oregon State University — have already committed to making their new test-optional policies permanent.

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Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.