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Central College One Of Scores Of Schools Dropping Standardized Testing Requirements

Hundreds of colleges and universities temporarily waived their standardized testing requirements during the pandemic. Some, like Central College in Pella are now making the change permanent.

Central College in Pella will no longer require students to submit ACT or SAT scores in order to apply. The school is one of many colleges and universities across the country going “test optional," a trend that has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Hundreds of schools dropped their standardized testing requirements during the pandemic, as public life closed down and test dates were postponed and cancelled.

Central College announced this week it’s making the change permanent; students can submit test scores, which may help them qualify for additional scholarships, but they won’t have to.

Dean of Enrollment Management Chevy Freiburger says the school doesn’t consider test scores to be the best predictor of student success.

“The standardized test score for Central has always been one component and we’ve always had a holistic review through that admission process and have found that greater success is, for Central, is on the GPA and on the courses,” Freiburger said.

The school, like scores of others, waived its testing requirements for the 2020 and 2021 admission cycles, a decision which Freiburger said was met with relief by many students and their families.

“There was a lot of happy families knowing that, ‘hey I didn’t so well on the ACT or SAT for a variety of reasons’. However they really wanted to show the great work they’re doing in their high school curriculum,” he said.

Critics have long argued that standardized tests reinforce racial and economic inequality, with wealthy and well-resourced families able to boost their scores by paying for expensive tutors and test prep courses.

NPR has reported that a study published in 2018 following some 956,000 students across 28 institutions found that test optional schools had enrolled and graduated a higher proportion of low income and first generation students.

Freiburger said research on how test optional policies can promote diversity was a factor in the school’s decision. He said the change could also result in an increase in enrollment at a time when schools across the country, particularly small liberal arts colleges, are struggling to remain financially viable.

Overall, Freiburger says the new policy is meant to lower barriers to entry for students and help the school consider applicants through a full range of factors, including GPA, courses taken, class rigor and extracurriculars.

“Again we’re really hopeful that all students, their talents and potential for leadership can really be captured,” Freiburger said. “So students that might not necessarily shine on a standardized test score, they can maybe highlight some other areas of strength for admission to Central.”

Cornell College in Mount Vernon has also done away with requiring standardized test scores. In a statement last November as colleges and universities across the country were waiving the requirement, the school touted its record of being on the “leading edge” of the issue, having made the change in 2015.

“Test-optional provides the greatest flexibility and access possible to potential students,” Vice President for Enrollment Management Wendy Beckmeyer said in a written statement. “Cornell College has been a standard-bearer in providing flexibility.”

The national shift away from standardized testing is not going unnoticed by the country’s flagship testing companies, the College Board and ACT, which is headquartered in Iowa City.

In a blog post on the company’s website in February, ACT CEO Janet Godwin acknowledged that schools that went test optional during the pandemic were unlikely to reverse course soon. The company contracted with the market research firm EY-Parthenon to analyze the impacts of COVID-19 on the test optional trend.

“It is somewhat unlikely that institutions who adopted temporary or pilot test use policies in response to COVID will return to test-required in the near term,” Godwin wrote.

Godwin said the company would use their research and lessons learned from the pandemic to “empower the evolution and growth” of ACT moving forward, with an eye towards broader concerns around equity and inclusion.

“We know we can’t go back to the way we did things before the pandemic,” Godwin said. “We must learn from this watershed moment, and we must all come together to fight for fairness for all students, to give them a world where they can realize their full potential.”

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter