A Nightmarish Year for College Board and ACT

Colleges, slowly but steadily, were choosing to go test-optional. Then came the pandemic (photo credit: Jevnin).

Just how bad of a year has 2020 been for College Board, the maker of the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests, and the AP Tests, and ACT, the maker of its eponymous exam? Let’s just say it’s been their worst nightmare. You see, each and every year, a select number of schools choose to go test-optional in admissions. Yet, prior to this year, the vast majority of America’s highly selective colleges still required the submission of the SAT or ACT. When the University of Chicago chose to go test-optional back in June of 2018, that was major news since the school was, in many ways, blazing its own path among our nation’s elite universities. When UChicago announced its decision, it’s not as though any Ivy League school had gone-test optional. It’s not as though Stanford University or Duke University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had gone test-optional. UChicago was charting its own course. But that all changed this year when all of our nation’s colleges went test-optional — even if only for this admissions cycle.

The Existential Crisis of College Board and ACT

As Jim Jump writes in a piece for Insider Higher Ed entitled “Testing’s Existential Crisis, or Blanche Du Bois, Confederate Statues and Admission Tests,” “The pandemic wiped out spring test dates for both the SAT and ACT, with the July 18 ACT administration being the first time since March that students have been able to take either test. That should have been a positive step toward a return to normalcy, whatever normal means in the world we inhabit, but was overshadowed by news reports that 1,400 students who had registered to take the ACT showed up on July 18 to find a test center not open. Some of those test centers had canceled late the night before without even informing ACT. The College Board’s attempt to salvage the Advanced Placement program by moving to 45-minute exams taken online and at home led to some students being unable to upload their completed exams, resulting in widespread criticism and a class action lawsuit. In the aftermath, both the College Board and ACT rescinded plans to introduce online versions of their exams in the coming year.”

As Billy Joel Sang It, They’ll All Go Down Together

Many of College Board’s and ACT’s greatest fears — fears they’ve harbored for decades — are coming true this year. And it’s not as though College Board and ACT are just worried about this year’s fallout. They’re worried that all the colleges that went test-optional this year are going to come to the conclusion that not requiring test scores didn’t change all that much — that these tests may not be all that necessary. And that, of course, could bring about the fall of these two behemoths. For so many years, College Board and ACT have been arch-rivals. But this year, in many ways, they’re in it together.


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