Most colleges, at this point, are choosing to go test-optional for the class of 2021 and are being flexible about allowing students from the class of 2020 to take a GAP year without losing their seat in the class. There was a thread on a College Admission Facebook Group with the query: “Who is up for a betting pool on which school is last to scurry off the rotting deck of a sinking ship?”. This is referring to the last colleges that have decided to go test-optional for class of 2021, due to the inaccessibility of testing.
Here is how I would envision an interview with one of these admissions deans going:
Q: Thank you for joining us, Dean of Ivy U. We wanted to discuss with you some of the trends in relation to college admissions and the running of colleges in the fall.
A: Thanks for having me.
Q: My pleasure. So you have stated that you will be requiring testing, unless there are exceptional circumstances, for the class of 2021. Counselors have been writing on this Facebook group that the website has been inaccessible, the technical support is not available, that there are insufficient testing centers open and those that are open are at or near capacity due to social distancing needs.
A: First, I am confident that the College Board WILL deliver the tests to all. They really have to even if it means renting convention centers to do it. As a last resort, they can release the PSAT’s. If that fails, of course we would all have to adjust but I doubt it will come to that.
Q: Why do you think you need the SAT’s? Many colleges that are extremely selective, including all the “Little Ivies”, have gone test-optional. Dartmouth’s president has even issued a statement, stating:” ‘Optional’ is not a trick word. It is not a wink that signals a continued institutional preference for the upcoming admissions cycle. This is not a moment for euphemisms or gimmicks; there should be no parsing of intent with this amended testing policy. “ If they can do it, why can’t you?
A: We have a much higher volume of applications. For those of us, mostly the most competitive, where virtually all applicants have straight A’s or close, it is premature to give up on one of the few useful tools in reviewing large pools that are homogeneous when it comes to grades, inflated ones at that.
Q. What would be the cost of making your school test-optional? Wouldn’t you still be able to choose an extremely strong class without them, probably not much different than the one you will create with the testing?
A: We have made a lot of inroads into places we have not gotten many applications from in the past. We have, like many universities, made a commitment to recruit in urban high schools that are less familiar to us. But we also have done more outreach than most colleges into rural areas which we are also less familiar with. The students at schools in each of these areas would be at a disadvantage without test scores to validate their grades. They say grades are a better predictor but when the grades are all A’s where do you turn to next? Well perhaps schools that you know and have confidence in the weight of the transcript but, of course, that favors the affluent. The SAT was founded at the beginning of the last century for just that reason so that the student with good grades in an unknown school in Iowa let’s say had the opportunity to demonstrate that they were just as good as the kid from Exeter. So, it’s purpose was to increase access not restrict it.
Q: Wouldn’t they be able to present other scores, like AP scores or PSAT scores?
A: The AP testing was very different this year. It was done on-line and had only one essay question. I don’t know how reliable and valid this test is since it has not gone through the standard methodology done to validate testing. Students are told when they take the PSAT’s that they are not for college admissions purposes and some students might feel it was unfair to use them this way now. But we could leave it open as an option if kids did want to disclose them. There is good data on the increase from PSAT to SAT which can make them a meaningful if not perfect alternative.
Q: Some say that the standards and accountability movement based on test scores is the most pernicious trend in secondary education. Do you and other members of the highly selective college community have to not just think about how they benefit your decision-making but balance it against damage they have done to our children and our schools?
A: When it comes to the negative impacts of testing on our kids, I say why is knowledge and ability to be ignored? We have a “leader” who disregards science and says he leads from the “gut” Is this the way we want to go? Some people will be better than others in gathering information and some of them using this information will be able to lead us to a better place.
Q: What about the effects of this time period on the mental health of kids? Everything about their hopes and dreams has been thrown into flux. They are being asked to navigate a world that is unknown, uncertain, and frightening. Does adding the stress of not just preparing for and taking tests, but navigating the myriad of issues around just trying to get to test, make this crisis much worse for kids?
A: We describe our current policy as “flexible” If a student demonstrates that they were unable to get the test then we will consider waiving it. As I understand it, the College Board will make tests available each month beginning in August so there should be ample opportunity to get the test.
Q: Do you see any potential problems with access?
A: If the kids applying to “test-optional” places take it anyway hoping to get a leg up on their peers who didn’t, they will take spaces that should be used for students who need the test. If the College Board fails to deliver the test by the end of October, that will be a different story but I can’t see that far into my crystal ball.
Q: What about the current seniors? Will you be allowing them to have a GAP year if they request it?
A: As for GAP years, we are holding the line on approving them beyond the usual reasons for this year’s class. If not, where would there be space for the juniors?
Q: Don’t you need fewer students this year in order to reduce the population density? Wouldn’t it be prudent to have a smaller freshman class and let the gap year students fill the class out the next year?
A: I don’t think a final decision has been made about this and this may eventually be the case. But we need to operate on the information we have at the moment and prepare that we may in the end decide to maintain full enrollment.
Q: Thank you for speaking with me today. This is a lot to think about.
A: It is a complex world but we need to take thoughtful advantage of all the information we can assemble to lead us to the best outcomes.