Tennessee is reversing its optional testing policy. Where are the other state systems? |

The university will again require students to submit their SAT and ACT scores in 2023, ending its waiver process two years early.

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Despite announcing last May that it would extend its optional testing admissions policy for prospective students through 2025, University of Tennessee officials now say the experiment will only last for the academic year 2022-23.

Starting in fall 2023, Tennessee will require students applying to all of its campuses to submit ACT and SAT scores, bucking national trends that see more than 1,600 four-year institutions continue their optional testing policies in the aim to maintain a more holistic admissions approach.

Tennessee President Randy Boyd didn’t give many details about the reason for the change, saying only at a recent board meeting that “our admissions policies do not allow for the optional test.” and that it was only permitted under the waiver process during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There was really no action needed from the board. So this is in line with pre-COVID exceptional admissions policies,” he said.

But last year, the university issued a statement announcing a lengthy extension of the policy with this quote from Associate Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Fabrizio D’Aloisio: “While we believe the admissions tests bring added validity to our decisions, we also understand that testing is just one part of a student’s story. This five-year optional testing policy will allow us to collect data and evaluate the effectiveness of admissions testing for our student population.

A Tennessee spokesperson reiterated part of that message and how they came to the decision on Tuesday:

“Standardized test scores, while important, are only one component of holistic admissions processes. Since June 2021, we have engaged in a very public and open dialogue with the UT Board of Trustees regarding the use of standardized test results in admissions decisions. Our commitment to the board since then has been to continue to evaluate standardized tests in admissions, adjusting and/or refining them as needed. We will continue to assess, as well as our transparency in public discussions with the Board of Directors.

Tennessee plans to continue discussions on “general” admissions at its next meeting in early June, though it seems clear from Boyd’s closing statement at the meeting – that all campuses agreed to no not make any revisions – that would be a long shot to bring back test-optional. Current students who have already applied for admission in Fall 2022 and those applying in Spring 2023 will still be exempt. The average SAT score in Tennessee in 2019-20 was 1,240 with some flexibility, according to several national student readiness agencies. A report from the Knoxville News Sentinel showed that around 9,000 students in 2020 applied without entering their test score.


More UBs: A two-year study by universities will examine the fairness of voluntary testing policies


How Others Approach Optional Testing

Tennessee is among the few state public systems that have chosen to reverse course on the optional test or not allow it at all. These policies have been crucial before and especially during the pandemic in getting a wider range of students interested in post-secondary education. Over the past year, students have applied to more than five institutions each, with the number of applications increasing by 14% on the common application alone. Tennessee did not provide details on

Some higher education leaders worry that their removal will lead to fewer applications from students from underrepresented groups. At least one very selective private institution, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has chosen to bring them back so that it can assess the “academic preparation” of its candidates. Bob Schaeffer, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), worries that systems like Tennessee are driven by other factors.

“Just like in Florida and Georgia, the political appointees who control the university system in the state of Tennessee have overridden the judgment of admissions and enrollment management professionals,” he said. “When college entrance exam requirements are set by ideologues, it’s no surprise that data on test accuracy and fairness is ignored. While FairTest wouldn’t be surprised if public systems in a few other states controlled by ultra-conservatives were to reinstate testing requirements, most will remain ACT/SAT as an option.

In the meantime, other state public university systems have supported them, at least for now, including several in the South – Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Idaho, Utah and Wyoming are among those yet to make a decision for 2022. The other UT, the University of Texas at Austin, decided last week to extend the optional test of another year until 2023. The reason? Without going into specifics, Texas said, “This change was originally made in the fall of 2021 to allow the university to better serve prospective students by ensuring that testing limitations related to COVID-19 do not affect a student’s ability to apply.

With the pandemic still a factor in terms of financial burdens on families and whether students should pursue a college education, is pushing some institutions to press on. Texas cited Tennessee’s very reason for maintaining the status quo on elective testing — its “holistic approach to admissions.” Texas still accepts test results as part of the process, as many do. Schaeffer noted that 84 schools are blind-tested through 2022 and some beyond, including Caltech, Catholic University, Cal State University and University of California systems, l Cornell University, Pitzer College and Washington State University. And some have made optional testing permanent.

Boyd said the university and its campus leaders spent six months reviewing optional testing policies, but the process appears to be over. He thanked those who have implemented them over the past two years “to accommodate our students during the COVID pandemic, which has made testing less available.”

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