We’ve all changed during the COVID-19 era. Lives, organizations, and entire industries have transformed, some for the better and others, unfortunately, for the worse. Few sectors of society have been impacted as dramatically as education. Both K-12 and higher ed have been a veritable roller coaster of remote learning for students, families, educators, and administrators. These have been days we will not soon forget!
Yet, not every change should be rolled back once we’ve beaten back the virus, as this singular moment has helped accelerate trends that were already gaining traction. In the sphere of education and admissions, for example, remote learning and virtual campus tours have become normalized in a way that will add tremendous convenience and access to everyone who values those qualities. College admissions testing has changed as well, as cancelled, socially-distanced, and even pop-up tests made taking the SAT and ACT more stressful than ever. No wonder test optional admissions policies–whatever that term really means–dominate conversations about colleges.
Like everything else in our brave new world, the tests themselves are changing. The strongest signal that the test makers understand at least some of what the current moment demands came from the College Board this week in the form of a bombshell announcement:
First, we’re discontinuing SAT Subject Tests.
Second, we are discontinuing the optional SAT Essay.
Third, we are investing in a more flexible SAT—a streamlined, digitally delivered test that meets the evolving needs of students and higher education.
Obviously, the announcement shares details about each change, but College Board didn’t say anything we haven’t already been saying for years. Subject Tests were dying a slow death of irrelevance at most schools before the pandemic, but the cancellation of the May and June SAT dates–when most students sat for Subject Tests–combined with a public desire for fewer tests finally killed the old Achievements.
At least some schools still cared about Subject Tests. The optional essay portion of the SAT has been worse that useless for years; all that time squandered talking about, prepping for, and actually sitting for the essay represents wasted (from a college admissions perspective) moments we’ll never get back. I first called for the essay portion of the tests to be retired in 2018, but even abandonment by almost every single college in the world wasn’t enough to force College Board to make the right move. Instead, a global pandemic did the trick.
The third statement represents the direction we’ve expected the College Board to pursue for a long time in joining ACT in presenting a digital version of its flagship test. Colleges made clear that they weren’t ready to accept digital test scores in 2020, but this new year will almost certainly herald a shift towards wider access and implementation of computer versions of the SAT and ACT… perhaps even in-home versions.
What comes next? Here are three thoughts:
1. ACT should be following with a similar announcement about the merciful death of their own ACT Writing section ASAP.
2. Now that the Subject Tests and SAT essay are off the table, effective immediately for U.S. students, the core SAT and ACT themselves, along with AP scores, will mean even more.
3. The reasons Subject Tests persisted–mainly uneven access to many AP classes and a need both at home and abroad for standardized content exams–needs to be addressed on a systemic level.
More changes are almost certainly on the horizon. For now, as we bid a fond farewell to both the SAT essay and Subject Tests, let us not say, “So long,” but, instead, “What took you so long?”