Bill would make Colorado’s test-optional policies permanent

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • Two Colorado state lawmakers plan to introduce a bill removing a requirement that public colleges there use a national assessment test score, such as from the ACT or SAT, as an admissions criteria, according to the office of one of the bill’s sponsors.
  • The lawmakers said making the scores optional would improve access to higher education, while critics felt it would eliminate a vital college readiness standard, Chalkbeat reported. State institutions largely support the measure, the publication noted.
  • Many colleges put a moratorium on their requirement that applicants submit test scores in light of the pandemic. But more significant moves by key states stand to make a longer-lasting impact.

Dive Insight:

policies permanent

Colorado is one of only a few states where lawmakers have a say in admissions testing requirements. In other states, they are decided by politically appointed higher education oversight groups or institutional levels.

Angel Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said he wasn’t expecting the proposal to happen quickly, though the group supports the measure. He noted that other states could follow Colorado’s lead. However, he said lobbying efforts would likely focus on the individual institutions in states where schools decide the policy for themselves.

NACAC encouraged public colleges to make tests optional for the current admissions cycle and urged all schools to clarify to students that they will not be penalized for not submitting scores. NACAC also asked colleges to reexamine how they use the tests to ensure they are doing so equitably.

The Colorado bill would permanently expand a temporary measure the state’s legislature passed this summer that gave public colleges the option to waive the test score requirement for applicants who graduated from high school in 2021. It would also require schools to report data to the state on their applicants for 10 years, draft text states. The bill is expected to be introduced in mid-February.

“It doesn’t stop them from using the ACT or SAT if they want to … but provides flexibility to determine the combination of factors used as the basis for admission,” states a fact sheet about the forthcoming bill shared with Higher Ed Dive by one of the bill’s sponsors.

Many colleges temporarily stopped asking applicants to submit test scores as site closures, and capacity reductions meant fewer people could sit for the exams. The situation dealt a severe blow to the College Board and ACT, which struggled to make their tests available digitally.

And it drew attention to a movement percolating within higher ed before the pandemic, in which colleges and systems increasingly stopped requiring students to submit their exam scores.

Public universities in Oregon announced early last year that they would be test-optional going forward. And the University of California system was already studying whether the ACT and SAT were reliable academic performance metrics when sued in late 2019 for using the tests. Other public schools, including Temple and Old Dominion universities, already offered test-optional admissions.

Some schools that went test-optional in response to the pandemic are now extending the policy. Penn State University announced this week it will be test-optional for first-year applicants through fall 2023.

Admissions testing critic Bob Schaeffer is hopeful about the Colorado bill, calling it “strong evidence” of the test-optional movement’s growing momentum. Schaeffer is interim executive director of FairTest, which advocates for fair uses of the exams.

Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost for enrollment management at Oregon State University, said in an email that it’s hard to tell whether decisions to continue test-optional policies are motivated by the pandemic, the need to do more research on their impact, or “a process of enlightenment” based on feedback from admissions officers who are no longer using the tests. Boeckenstedt has publicly supported test-optional admissions.

Still, a small contingent of schools has held fast to their testing policies. Among them are public colleges in Florida, where the governors have not waived the admissions test requirement.

But decisions from within big states — such as the forthcoming Colorado proposal and efforts to overhaul the UC system’s use of admissions tests — could impact how schools nationwide proceed with the tests, Pérez said.

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