COVID-19 Causes Reassessment of the ACT

October 9, 2020

COVID-19 has affected every aspect of life in one way or another, and standardized testing is no exception.

Like many high schoolers, Elena Candamil, senior, is interested in adding a few points to her ACT score before college applications are due. Even after her test was postponed for two months, she was well prepared for the chance to take it again. However, she now has to wait even longer, as her test was cancelled at 9:30 p.m. the night before. 

What should be a point of anxiety and frustration for Candamil is nothing more than a minor inconvenience.

Students and staff across the nation are recognizing that the ACT is becoming less integral to a student’s application. Ms. Serena Schmidt, Counselor, has noticed this change over the past few years. 

There have been more colleges becoming ‘test optional’ schools over the last few years. I think more and more colleges are discovering that a student’s success in college, and what they got on the ACT, do not always go hand in hand,” Schmidt said.

Even the roll out of individual section retakes is in its own form of quarantine. 

The idea surfaced around mid-2019, and a year later, the ACT organization is still struggling to meet their fall release. Some colleges won’t even accept retake scores as they file under the “superscoring” category. 

That is the least of testmakers’ worries as the online format being used for test retakes is instilling fear of widespread cheating for colleges and counselors alike. Technical glitches plagued some online Advanced Placement exams this past school year, and the “Varsity Blues” scandal revealed wealthy parents paid to boost their kids’ scores.

COVID-19 has seemed to expose the cracks in the standardized testing system and accelerated it’s irrelevancy. 

The University of California system, which comprises ten campuses including the prestigious UCLA and UC Berkeley, had announced in March that it would go test-optional for students applying for fall 2021 admission due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

In addition, the entire UC system will go test-blind, meaning that colleges won’t look at standardized test scores even if a student submits them—for in-state applicants in fall 2023 and fall 2024—and the ACT or SAT test requirement will be eliminated by 2025.

“I think more and more colleges are going to find through this school year’s admission cycle—since most colleges are waiving the ACT for fall 2021 admission due to COVID and cancelled test dates—that they should just place more emphasis on a student’s transcript and the other supporting docs that get submitted, like letters of rec, essays, etc.,” Schmidt said.

Some other highly ranked colleges that are now test-optional include: New York University, Dartmouth College, University of Virginia, University of Pennsylvania, and California Institute of Technology. 

Over 100 accredited colleges became test-flexible this year, and more than 1,200 schools say applicants can skip the tests, including those who made the move before the pandemic.

So, one who has devoted their precious time towards getting a 34 might ask, “What possible benefit could there be to ending the ACT?” 

It’s simple, reconsidering the ACT is making college more accessible to underrepresented groups.

A study conducted by UC Berkeley graduate student Zachary Bleemer, analyzed the graduation rates of minority students who were admitted to the University of California despite their relatively low test scores. 

Their 77 percent graduation rate would likely have been 55 percent if they went to a less selective college. They became 25 percent more likely to earn a college degree within five years, and they’re earning $15,000 a year more than expected by their mid-20s.

While the sun seems to be setting on the ACT, only time will tell what colleges are going to expect out of applicants, as every ending is the start of a new beginning. 

“I feel like the ACT will become obsolete within the next couple of years. Colleges are focusing more on other parts of your application, and with a lot of kids not being able to take it this year, it shows that it is not necessary,” Candamil said.

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