NACAC Statement on Standardized Testing During the COVID-19 Emergency

Media Contacts:
Shanda Ivory


Arlington, VA (April 29, 2020)The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) released the following statement to its members today.

These are unprecedented times. The coronavirus outbreak and resulting quarantine measures have disrupted every facet of life, forcing us to take emergency actions and rethink each aspect of what we do. College admission is no exception. The practices college admission counseling professionals have maintained for decades take on different meaning in the alternate reality in which we find ourselves.

NACAC’s core values suggest we must consider equity and fairness in all our decision-making and adhere to sound educational practice. Those guiding principles have never been more important as we confront the extraordinary hardships the coronavirus outbreak has placed on students applying to college in 2020-21, and they serve as the foundation of our concerns regarding the proposed home administration of the ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

We appreciate that public health measures have forced the cancellation of test administrations, disadvantaging students wishing to test this semester; and we understand that ACT and College Board must plan ahead in the event schools aren’t able to open in the fall. But we’re also mindful that practitioners—both counselors and admission officers—have raised legitimate questions about the effects of these adaptive testing measures, particularly on those who are already at risk of dropping out of the college pipeline—our low-income, first-generation students. Their needs must be kept in the forefront of our minds at all times, as they are the most susceptible to harm in every aspect of this pandemic.

Should schools remain closed into the fall, NACAC members have expressed concerns about the proposed home administration of the ACT and SAT, as well as AP tests, including:
• The digital divide between low-income and upper-income students is persistent and well-documented. The homes of low-income students are less likely to have the internet access and devices needed to participate in online testing. We cannot ignore the fact that, if schools do not reopen by fall, requiring students to take standardized exams at home will introduce a known risk factor for many low-income students that will further jeopardize educational equity and raise legitimate questions about the fairness of admission practices in this cycle.
• Students with disabilities also face unprecedented challenges in completing schoolwork and participating in standardized tests, particularly if they require accommodations. The needs of this important population of students must be taken fully into account.
• Students outside of the US will be subject to similar constraints, with the added consideration of uneven access to online infrastructure across various nations and impractical testing hours.
• Little is known about the reliability of admission test scores taken in a home setting. Indeed, the NACAC Task Force on Standardized Testing for International and US Students is currently wrestling with issues of cheating, test re-use, and other concerns related to the globally expanding administration of the tests. As such, the potential for legitimate questions about the reliability of test scores taken outside of a monitored test center is high in the current context.
• Colleges are also currently without information, aside from general assurances, regarding the extent to which home-administered tests will maintain validity and comparability with other test administrations.
Finally, NACAC is concerned that, even accounting for the crisis in which we are all immersed, our members believe the testing organizations have failed to communicate openly and fully with the  professionals who are vital to the administration of the tests—school counselors, college admission officers, and their professional association. NACAC and its members have felt blindsided by recent testing organization decisions, and are left to answer questions from students, families, and other stakeholders on the behalf of the organizations with little to no solid information. Successful maintenance of the partnership that sustains the testing infrastructure should be among the testing organizations’ highest priorities. Moreover, the College Board recently scheduled the September SAT administration during the NACAC conference, potentially curtailing or depriving thousands of school counselors of NACAC’s annual national professional development event.

Testing agencies have an obligation to their core constituents to provide comprehensive, timely communications to all stakeholders, particularly those that comprise the infrastructure for the administration of tests. Testing agencies also must be accountable to their primary stakeholders, and as yet, the NACAC membership has overwhelmingly expressed its concern at the lack of transparency with respect to the agencies’ recent actions.
In 2008, the NACAC Commission on the Use of Standardized Testing in Undergraduate Admission called on colleges to assess their use of standardized test scores in careful consideration of the costs (to students and institutions) versus benefits (to institutions). If the benefits to institutions were not found to be substantial, the commission encouraged institutions to consider dropping the requirement that students submit test scores as a condition for admission. Since 2008, a growing number of colleges have adopted test-optional admission policies. And although the majority of institutions still require test scores for undergraduate applications and scholarships, the current crisis has prompted many more colleges to consider moving to a test-optional policy, at least temporarily, for students applying to college in the coming year.

For the 2020-21 admission cycle, NACAC is asking its member colleges and universities to reassess their admission criteria in light of the overwhelming challenges faced by many students. Do the criteria—test scores, grades in college prep courses, strength of curriculum, and the like—stand up to educational scrutiny? Are they reliable? And perhaps most important of all, do they preserve access for all students, including low-income, first-generation, and other vulnerable students who are already facing increased threats to their physical, emotional, and economic well-being amid this global health crisis? If the potential cost to students and families outweighs the benefit of having access to test scores, NACAC asks that institutions consider the effects of their testing requirements on disadvantaged students in this unprecedented admission cycle, and consider pursuing policies that advance the interests of equity and fairness.

Students and families will face extraordinary difficulties accessing and successfully navigating the college pipeline in 2020-21. The actions we take today can help ease those challenges or exacerbate them. It is incumbent upon all of us within the college admission counseling profession to leverage our collective power to avoid the latter.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, is an organization of more than 15,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education. NACAC is committed to maintaining high standards that foster ethical and social responsibility among those involved in the transition process, as outlined in the association's Code of Ethics and Professional Practices.

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