Some Virginia Colleges Make SAT Optional

Sydney Beard, Editor

A selected number of Virginia schools have chosen to relax their exam requirements. The University of Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Norfolk State University are among these schools within the commonwealth who have changed this policy. The optional test policy is growing among schools, as more than 1,800 accredited four-year colleges and universities have committed to making the ACT/SAT optional for fall 2023 applicants.

The pandemic was a major turning point in this decision among Virginia schools. For years, colleges and universities received criticism for their admission processes, however, the pandemic sparked the discussion whether or not the exam criteria should be relaxed. The pandemic caused over a year of loss of learning, so it was noticed that low-income students were scoring much lower on these admission exams, causing them to be rejected by desired colleges even though they have had a high performance in school. However, the pandemic isn’t the only initiative that made schools choose this, it was noted that several studies have demonstrated that as time goes on, especially over the next decade, fewer high school students will graduate. “Colleges were a little more desperate for enrollment, and I think that accelerated the thinking of ‘what do we get out of these standardized tests anyway,’” said Joe DeFilippo, director of academic affairs for the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia.

Higher education institutions have conducted several studies on the impact of issuing test-optional policies. Kelly Slay, an assistant professor of high education and public policy at Vanderbilt Peabody College, conducted a study on how the changes have affected admission officers, since they have told Slay it has not been an easy task to see where a student stands without admission exam scores. “One of our key findings were the tensions that were emerging around these test optional policies,” Slay told the Hechinger Report. “There’s a struggle on how to implement them.” Even though it seems complex to decide whether a student should be admitted into a school without an exam score, Feder said that there are several other ways in order to determine whether or not a student should be accepted based on their conversations with admission officers, Some of the things that schools can look into beyond exam scores are K-12 assessments, interviews, and extracurricular activities. “I don’t think they’re a great reflection of what students are ready for and what they’ve already studied because, for one, it’s easy to bomb a test, no matter how much you’ve studied,” said Grace Madison, a homeschooled student in Alexandria.

In 2022 within Virginia, it was noted that 194,909 test takers completed the SAT or a PSAT assessment, which was far below the number of test takers recorded in 2019 that was a total of 238,500 test takers. ACT test-taking also had a notable decline in Virginia, as it was 9% in 2022 compared to 21% in the year of 2019. Schools that have enacted test-optional policies are seeing a major increase in applications, as well as an increase in minority applicants. According to the American Educational Research Journal, a key finding from a study of about 100 private institutions is that the policy change caused a 10-12% increase in enrollment of first-time Black, Latinx and Native students, along with a 8-8% enrollment of women first-time students.