closeup of hands and pencil of student taking test

By the fall of 2019, more than 360 colleges and universities had moved to test-optional status. The pandemic pushed even more schools to temporarily waive standardized testing requirements.

States Consider Test-Optional College Admissions

By Andrew Smalley | April 8, 2021 | State Legislatures News

COVID-19 has upended many aspects of traditional postsecondary education, but the pandemic has also accelerated several trends that were emerging before 2020. In recent years, many colleges and universities have made standardized test scores an optional part of the admissions process, although students may still choose to take the tests and add their scores to their applications.

Advocates of test-optional admissions argue that standardized tests unfairly disadvantage low-income and minority students and that eliminating test mandates can improve the diversity of the student body. Organizations that administer these tests, such as the College Board and ACT, say their tests are fair and provide an objective measure of applicants’ academic readiness for postsecondary education. The ACT defended its test in May 2020 as adding “meaningful insight and significant value above and beyond other factors used in the college admission process.”

By the fall of 2019, more than 360 colleges and universities had moved to test-optional status, according to the National Center for Open and Fair Testing (FairTest), which tracks university testing policies and advocates for test-optional admissions. However, the pandemic pushed even more schools to temporarily waive standardized testing requirements. Notably, the University of California system, which enrolls over 285,000 students, suspended its test requirement through 2024 and will create a new college-readiness test beginning in the fall 2025 admissions process. Nationwide, more than half of bachelor’s degree-granting schools have announced that they will not require ACT or SAT through at least fall 2022, according to FairTest.

State Actions

In addition to actions at individual institutions and systems, several states are considering proposals to reevaluate the role of standardized tests for college admission. In 2020, Colorado passed legislation that temporarily allows institutions of higher education to forego assessment test scores as admission criteria for first-time students. This year, the state will consider a bill that would permanently remove the assessment test score requirement. Institutions that still require a test score would have to notify the Department of Higher Education, which would report to the General Assembly on how the optional use of test scores impacted access to higher education.

Several other states will consider similar bills. Maryland will consider a proposal that public institutions become test optional beginning later this year, and  Illinois legislators have introduced a bill that would require test-optional policies by 2022. New York lawmakers have proposed eliminating the use of the ACT/SAT by the 2024-25 academic year. The bill would also require the state university system to create a new standardized admissions test by 2026.

NCSL will continue to follow legislation related to test-optional admissions in our Postsecondary Bill Tracking Database under the “Admissions & Enrollment” topic.

Andrew Smalley is a research analyst in NCSL’s Education Program.

Additional Resources