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Why U.S. Colleges Are Rethinking Standardized Tests



Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images


The pandemic forced a pause on colleges requiring standardized testing, long the gold standard for admissions in the U.S. As Covid-19 restrictions ease, widespread mandatory reliance on the ACT and SAT entrance exams isn’t springing back as quickly. One reason is that schools anticipate more Covid disruptions and want to provide predictability to applicants. Another is concern over large race-related gaps in SAT scores, which have been blamed for unequal educational opportunity for non-White students. 

The SAT, administered by the New York-based College Board, and the Iowa City-based ACT are decades-old screening tools for U.S. college admission. Both are multiple-choice, written exams heavy on math and reading, taken by high school students typically in their junior year, sometimes senior. The SAT was invented in the 1920s. Harvard University, in the early 1930s, was the first school to use the SAT as an instrument in admissions decisions, initially to determine recipients of one small scholarship program, according to Nicholas Lemann, author of “The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy.” The College Board, an association of educational institutions, adopted the SAT to replace a battery of essay tests during World War II, a change billed as temporary that instead proved lasting. Lemann said. College Board membership expanded greatly after the war, and the SAT became a mass-administered exam. The ACT emerged in the late 1950s as a competitor.