Over the past year many universities made the SAT or ACT optional for college applications. Students could opt to submit their test scores or bypass taking the test entirely. This was spurred in part by the fact that COVID screwed up any kind of reliability (such as it was) of standardized test. At some higher institutions, this led to a diversification of applicants and admitted students. It’s likely that many colleges will make the SAT/ACT optional.

The University of California system went one (final) step further, stating that they were not even going to consider SAT/ACT scores when looking at student applications. It’s worth noting the decision emerged out of a legal case concerning students with disabilities, rather than an epiphany about equitable admission. Still, for the next five years at least, UC will not be permitted to consider SAT/ACT scores. It’s not entirely clear what UC will look at instead; presumably some combination of GPA, class rank, transcripts, essays, and student developed artifacts. The UC system serves over 200,000 undergraduate students. 

It’s become very clear that if you’re not preparing students for a post-SAT world, you’re not preparing them for the college application experience. Criticisms of the SAT and ACT have existed for years, and the 2020 cessation of the tests as admission criteria is a lightning bolt that may just shock it out of many university systems. It’s possible that the SAT is dead and just doesn’t know it yet. It’s also likely the College Board does know it and will offer other products to supplement the SATs.

But, lest you think I’m dancing on the SAT’s grave, I also have concerns about some of these other admission criteria. Just as the SATs tend to favor students of wealthy children, who can afford the time and money that it takes to prepare for the SATs, the other metrics can be gamed as well. 

While you’ll not find many stronger advocates of artifacts-as-evidence than me, I also fully understand that relying solely on student crafted portfolios has issues of reliability and equity. Children of wealthy parents might be able to spruce up their college applications with more extra curricular activities. Colleges may look at the number of Advanced Placement classes taken, another metric which tends to favor wealthier children.  Even student artifacts of work, of which I’m a proponent of, can be subject to inequitable construction. “College admissions coach” is a job. As the college admissions process shifts, students with access to a coach are more likely to quickly navigate to this new system of polishing portfolios and other aspects of applications. Absent universal access to high quality college application coaching, college access will still suffer with or without the SATs.

One promising structure is a digital transcript that by default, seeks evidence of student learning. My daughter is attending a school that is part of the Mastery Transcript Consortium. Their digital transcript provides a robust look at students, their skills, their coursework, and their evidence of learning via student artifacts1. It’s a promising system. This is not an advertisement for the MTC but rather an exemplar of the types of ways schools need to be thinking when they are preparing students for post-secondary institutions. The other nice thing about a digital transcript centering student work is that it is potentially an asset should students choose to apply into the workforce rather than a university. 

The sample digital transcript provided by the Mastery Transcript Consortium

And that’s the one takeaway I’d like to emphasise: that schools, teachers, and counselors are integral to helping students navigate a post-SAT world. Schools need to be aware of other avenues to college entry rather than simple SAT scores. Counselors need to help students craft their applications and emphasize elements that are attractive to would-be post-secondary institutions. Teachers need to provide the time, space, and tasks that will facilitate the construction of robust student work worthy of a college application. It will take all of these working in tandem to prevent replicating the inequities produced by standardized tests. 

1 – As an aside, the sample transcript does not include any math artifacts, which often happens unless you as a school necessitate it. I’ve seen many schools develop a portfolio system that allows free reign and, of course, math gets the short shrift. Part of this is due to the types of math tasks being offered.

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