Florida universities seek to drop ACT/SAT requirement for 2021 admissions

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida’s public universities want ACT and SAT scores to be optional for students applying for 2021 admission, if the two national exams do not resume a regular testing schedule in August, according to a letter from admissions directors to the state.

The change, if approved, would be temporary but also groundbreaking for Florida’s 12 universities, where minimum scores on the exams are required and high scores are viewed as needed to get into the most-selective state schools.

The Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, is expected to take up the matter May 5 during a meeting conducted by conference call.

A spokeswoman for the system would not confirm Tuesday which institutions had signed off on the letter asking for the board to suspend its entrance exam requirement. But the University of Central Florida said it had, and John Barnhill, who oversees admissions at Florida State University, said in an email that all of the state institutions wanted to go “test optional” for students applying in the fall.

Dozens of colleges and universities around the country, including the massive University of California system, have decided to adopt such “test-optional” policies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both the SAT, the more popular test in Florida for college-bound students, and the ACT have canceled spring tests due to the nation’s health scare. The two national testing organizations plan to resume this summer, but if they cannot, current 11th graders could be at a disadvantage when they start submitting college applications in the fall, the admissions directors said.

“There will not be enough time to get every qualified student to a standardized testing site to complete the assessment, and to do so demonstrating their best test score,” the admissions directors wrote. “These students would have normally taken the assessment for the first time in the spring; they may have missed that opportunity. “

In making their case to the state university system, the admissions directors also noted there are 43 out-of-state colleges with regional offices in Florida.

“These are public and private institutions offering discounts and scholarships to lure talented students out of Florida,” the admissions directors wrote. “Some of these institutions have also either offered test optional, test flexible, or test blind admission for 2020 and/or 2021.”

The University of Florida, which posted the highest scores among state institutions for the 2019 freshman class, “has a strong interest” in adopting a test-optional policy this spring rather than waiting until August as there are “many students in distress over the uncertainty going into their senior year,” the letter said.

While there has been a national “test-optional” movement, public universities have “long been the most resistant” to the idea, said Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

But the health crisis has made many admissions leaders at those universities consider at least a temporary change in their policies.

In addition to the California system, state universities from Oregon to Maine have made similar calls in recent weeks, Schaeffer noted.

“They would be wise to, at least, suspend,” he added. “It’s going to be very hard for high school juniors, the class of 2021, to obtain SAT or ACT scores.”

Critics like FairTest dislike the heavy role standardized tests play in admissions because they say top test scores correlate strongly with parental income, creating an unfair barrier to black and Hispanic students, who more often live in low-income families compared with white classmates.

But many admissions directors say the standardized test scores provide a consistent benchmark to help them sift through thousands of applications. A student’s high school course selection, and grades, weigh heavily in admissions decisions, they’ve said, but the rigor of those classes and the grading policies can vary across the state.

Florida’s legislative leaders have pushed the importance of test scores by urging universities to boost their national rankings. Test scores play a role in those rankings, giving institutions an incentive to admit students with high ACT or SAT scores.

In a budget request submitted to the board last summer, for example, UCF cited as evidence of its “commitment to excellence” that its average SAT score had risen to 1326 out of 1600.

In light of the canceled testing sessions, however, some of the country’s most selective colleges have announced at least temporary “test-optional” policies. Those include Cornell University, Davidson College and Williams College.

At Virginia Tech, “ a real concern about the availability of test dates,” prompted the university to suspend its testing requirement for next year’s freshmen. Students can decide if they want their scores to be considered as part of their applications.

Concerns about the entrance exams “quickly became the number one question that our office was fielding from prospective students and there was a lot of anxiety we were hearing in the voices of these students,” said Juan Espinoza, Virginia Tech’s director of undergraduate admissions.

The university was well-positioned to drop the testing requirement, Espinoza said, because it had already moved to a more holistic approach to admissions decisions. In addition to a student’s grades, his staff considers “non-cognitive variables” like their ability to overcome obstacles and a focus on serving others.


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