Western Washington University has joined multiple other Washington universities in making the SAT and ACT optional tests for admission, a new decision which many students and advocates hope will create a more equitable admissions system.
This change, which has been adopted by six other universities in Washington state, including the University of Washington and Washington State University, was made official May 2021.
“This movement affords traditionally unfairly treated students a chance to remove that [testing] barrier,” said Lindsay Addington, the National Association for College Admission Counseling director of global engagement.
COVID-19 affected many students’ ability to take the SAT in 2020 due to social distancing and remote learning. Maya Decaro, an incoming first-year student at Western, said the pandemic made it much harder to take the SAT.
“I was getting ready to take it but the pandemic made it so it just kept getting canceled and moved around,” Decaro said.
Decaro said because of the struggles she faced trying to take the test, she did not submit her scores when applying to Western.
Western administrators have expressed how the decision will create a more equitable admission process.
“The decisions by each of the Washington institutions to move to permanent test-optional policies reflect our sector’s commitment to reducing barriers for all students,” said Western Director of Admissions Cezar Mesquita via email. “The pandemic affected students’ access to resources in their college-search efforts — including taking the ACT and SAT.”
Additionally, Mesquita said the timing of the decision lined up with Western’s conversations on how to make a permanent policy regarding test scores being optional.
“As we enter a period of post-COVID-19 recovery, we continue our commitment to learn from this historic challenge and embrace long-term changes that best serve our students,” Mesquita said.
Washington public universities are not the first in the U.S. to make the SAT and ACT optional. In 1969, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, became the first college to make the SAT optional.
Statistics from Bowdoin College state that 31% of the class of 2023 did not submit SAT scores. The practice has spread across the U.S., and now, to Western.
Teachers like Katelyn Schaefer from Mount Vernon High School agree that making the SAT optional will help more of her students get into college.
“I have many strong students who display great academic characteristics, yet struggle to take tests,” Schaefer said. “This change will help more students achieve what they want to.”
Schaefer also said many students at Mount Vernon High School speak Spanish as their primary language. However, the SAT is not offered in Spanish, creating a barrier for some students to be able to take the test.
As SAT requirements continue to drop around the country, the focus is back on the question of whether standardized testing is an indicator of academic achievement. A study from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development states that standardized testing is an improper way to measure students’ knowledge because there are so few tests, making it difficult to fully evaluate a student’s ability.
Additionally, test anxiety affects 16-20% of high school students according to the American Test Anxieties Association.
“It is too early to see if going test-optional will have an impact on admission,” Addington said. “But initiatives need to go beyond just changing to test-optional admissions.”
Other universities such as the University of California will not factor test scores into a student’s admissions at all until at least 2025.
As Western joins a growing list of test-optional colleges for the foreseeable future, the question of whether all public universities will go test-optional arises.
“I think it [the SAT] being optional will probably have its pros and cons,” Decaro said. “But I think it will be for the better because standardized tests like that disproportionately affect certain students who don’t have the resources to get the same tutoring other students can.”
Reporting attributed by Nicola Wasmuth.
Justin Troia is a communication studies major and a reporter for The Front. He specializes in on-campus and student news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.