In January, the Iowa Board of Regents abolished the mandate requiring high school students to submit SAT or ACT scores when applying to public universities in Iowa — yet another example of a national trend being replicated from Harvard to Hawaii Pacific University. Waived in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic by the University of […]
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In January, the Iowa Board of Regents abolished the mandate requiring high school students to submit SAT or ACT scores when applying to public universities in Iowa — yet another example of a national trend being replicated from Harvard to Hawaii Pacific University.
Waived in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic by the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, the board’s internal research team determined that GPA is a better indicator of graduation than a standardized test. Other proponents believe that removing the mandate results in fewer challenges for low-income students (with limited access to testing opportunities) and eliminates threats of Iowa colleges being disadvantaged by outdated policies.
A recent study from 2021 showed that more than 90% of schools in the U.S. News & World Report list of top 100 liberal arts colleges and top 100 universities nationwide did not require test scores for admission last year. In December, ACT CEO Janet Godwin told the Washington Post that “test-optional is here to stay.”
Never has that been more true than last month when Iowa — where ACT was founded and is headquartered — decided to follow suit like much of the country. Ms. Godwin, CEO since November 2020, said the move was not surprising, stating that it’s normal for colleges to adapt their recruitment practices and admission policies and that they had been in touch with the board and universities about a possible policy change.
And while she “understands the test-optional rationale” and supports their decision, she pushes back against some of the regents’ explanations.
“I think some of the assertions they used to justify the change, we would argue, would be unsupported by research,” she said to the CBJ. “We believe through decades of research that the ACT is valid and valuable to admissions, enrollment, policies and practices. This idea that test scores really aren’t important – I just don’t agree with. More information is always good in terms of evaluating a student’s readiness for success, and so I think limiting the amount of information is going backwards, frankly.”
She pointed to the regents’ assertion that students have been unable to sit for tests, a problem she acknowledged was an issue during the 2020-2021 calendar year, but it is an area that has since “stabilized.”
“We’re not seeing those huge closures like we saw when the pandemic first hit,” she explained. “I don’t really agree that there’s a lack of capacity or availability for students to test.”
While students are no longer required to take the ACT, they are still permitted to submit a score that will factor into their body of work.
“I think it’s a really important step for students to take to see how they’re doing,” she said. “It’s a way of gauging progress from a student’s perspective. I think sending a score does demonstrate commitment to the process. It’s a good thing to show off.”
“I would also add,” she continued, “that in our 62-year history, we have never ever said an admission decision should be based on a test score alone, and we will never say that. It is an additional piece of information to gauge.”
While schools are transitioning away from the ACT requirement, it remains a vital component (in addition to GPA and college prep courses) of the primary pathway high school students will continue to take, said Chief Academic Officer Rachel Boon during the Board of Regents meeting.
After appointing a subgroup consisting of research analysts and admissions leaders, the regents conducted statistical analysis to determine ACTs’ role in predicting collegiate success in the classroom. It found that ACT scores “have value” in predicting first-year GPA, but they stopped short of saying the tests predict graduation rates.
“I want to be clear: This does not mean that the ACT has no value,” Ms. Boon said. “We continue to believe the ACT does have value. But [our findings] do mean that in the absence of an ACT score, admissions offices can use GPA and other academic information to still make really well-informed decisions.”
Under previous leadership, ACT sought out and purchased educational technology companies, but their strategy now revolves around leveraging those acquisitions to provide value to students, parents and educators, said Ms. Godwin. As a result, they aren’t planning any more strategic buys in the short term.
One program, called Encoura, gives students and institutions greater access to college, career planning and ACT resources. The platform works closely with Eduventures, a research and advisory firm that provides actionable research and insights.
The company will also launch an open beta experience for a new planning app called Encourage, which helps students explore post-secondary opportunities. It will let “students and educators set goals and find their own path,” she said. Next, they hope to get the product in front of students, economic advisors and stakeholders to determine the next round of features for the platform.
“There’s a troubling statistic around the ratio of high school counselors to students,” Ms. Godwin said. “There’s just not enough school personnel to have that kind of personalized experience with every student in high school to help them go through that planning and development stage. So we are committed to being a partner in helping kids navigate that process.”
It’s a difficult process that varies for each student, she explained, as some students may be better off pursuing a trade. In contrast, others face systemic inequalities that make obtaining a college degree difficult.
To help counteract these problems, ACT offers test fee waivers (including free test prep) to one in four students and are proud of the growth of their state and district testing program. This program is where a state or school district will pay for all 11th graders to take the ACT during the school day, at no cost to the students.
Ms. Godwin says she’ll be encouraging her 10th-grade son to register for the ACT this summer to see how he has fared since the pandemic has pushed learning online.
“He spent his ninth-grade year online and had a hard time staying engaged, and so, as a parent, I’m a little bit worried that maybe he might’ve gotten behind. It’ll give me good information about where my son is in terms of readiness for college.”