NACAC Calls for Changes in Standardized Testing Policies

David Hawkins
Executive Director for Educational Content and Policy


Arlington, VA (August 18, 2020) – A new report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) urges colleges and universities to examine their policies and practices concerning standardized tests and their potential impact on equity and access.

“Time has changed much about the founding purposes and assumptions behind these [standardized] exams,” according to the report, titled “Ensuring All Students Have Access to Higher Education: The Role of Standardized Testing in the Time of COVID-19 and Beyond." “Indeed, the very notions of finding ‘diamonds in the rough’ and even the ‘common yardstick’ are culturally suspect. Are not all students capable of success if given equal opportunity?”

Originally drafted to assess the mismatch between the increasing role international students play in institutions’ enrollment planning and the level of service these students receive in test administration, the report expanded focus with the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The final report released today examines the inequities associated with standardized testing for all college-bound students as well as the testing policies and practices in place at colleges and universities.

“After we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, we cannot simply ‘go back to normal,” the report says. “The tenuous grasp we hold on many of our habits and policies has been further loosened and we must adapt if we are to continue to fulfill our duty to the public good.”

“This is a year to be as economical as possible in uses of standardized testing,” said John Latting, chair of the task force responsible for the report. “It is a year to reexamine any mandatory use of testing as part of enrollment operations, for both practical but also ethical reasons. It is a year to be reminded of appropriate uses, and potential misuses, of standardized tests. It is a year to partner with the College Board and the ACT on test administration and fairness for students and secondary schools the world over.”

The report calls on institutions to conduct stringent reviews of their policies and said colleges must be “empowered to reexamine and to demand that, regardless of location and circumstance, such tests foster equity and access for their applicants. Institutions must take advantage of the opportunity brought about by COVID-19 disruptions to make changes that are carefully evaluated, that balance institutional circumstances and needs with those of the greater good, and as a result, will be more likely to persist and impact necessary change.”

NACAC CEO Angel B. Pérez called for further exploration of the role of standardized testing, as well as other parts of the application process, in creating inequities for prospective students. “Having colleges adjust standardized testing policy is only one step in the right direction towards greater social mobility for young people in America and abroad,” he said. “We must question the status quo, including our reliance on third parties to certify students’ qualifications for admission.”

The report recommends that institutions make decisions guided by the following values when considering standardized test requirements. Decisions should: 

  • Consider the public good. Consider what admission policy decisions mean for higher education generally, and whether institutional policies and practices enable more students access to higher education.

  • Be student-centered. Offer simplicity and clarity in a time of complexity and heightened anxiety about the college admission process. Though the COVID-19 pandemic created additional barriers to accessing standardized tests, certain populations—including international applicants, who are critical to postsecondary institutions—have faced barriers for decades that will remain, or even be exacerbated, if or when testing returns to pre-COVID-19 operations.

  • Focus on student success. Review historical institutional data for enrolled students to determine the factors that contribute to student success.

  • Be transparent and provide clearly stated explanations for all decisions related to testing. Share data that has informed decisions, clearly articulate the resulting decisions and justifications, and share data that results from policy changes or continuations. Avoid ambiguous language.

  • Include a plan for conducting frequent reviews. Commit to regular assessment of institutional data to inform testing policy.

  • Consider unintended consequences. Standardized tests have served a role in the evaluation process to assess cognitive characteristics of students independently of any particular secondary school curriculum. External assessments can be thought of as a counterweight to information from secondary schools that have an interest in the outcome of the selection process. When colleges and universities no longer utilize SAT or ACT scores, and other measures of academic achievement become more important in determining who is admitted, does this place new pressures on secondary schools?


The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, is an organization of nearly 14,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education. 

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