Sadie Bograd, 16, expected her junior year at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Ky., to be difficult — as junior years are everywhere — but, she said, acclimating to remote learning was a challenge she hadn’t expected before the covid-19 pandemic.

“I’d expected junior year to be stressful for entirely different reasons! But my teachers have all been exceedingly helpful, and I feel that I’m still developing a good understanding of the content, although I miss the casual social interaction that used to be a part of my school day,” she said.

Her brother is a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, and she said she is more concerned about what he is missing at school at the moment than she is. As for her own college experience, she said, “I’m choosing to believe that self-quarantine will be over in a year and a half.”

Bograd is in a math-science magnet program and enjoys calculus and physics as well as English and social sciences. She is also postsecondary projects manager at the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, which works to amplify the voices of Kentucky youth on the classroom impact of education policy issues.

In this piece, Bograd writes about college admissions, which she and her classmates face in the middle of a crisis that has shut down schools across the country and forced the College Board and ACT, Inc., to cancel various administrations of the exams they own, the SAT and ACT, respectively.

A record number of colleges and universities have recently dropped the requirement that students applying to enter as freshmen in fall 2021 submit an SAT or ACT test score, and some are using it as a pilot to determine whether to eliminate the requirement altogether. The College Board and ACT have responded by saying that they will offer at-home versions of their exams, if necessary.

Bograd says that’s not good enough. Here she explains why she thinks ACT or SAT score requirements for admissions in these times should be dropped.

By Sadie Bograd

I took my ACT three days before my school in Lexington, Ky., shut down. Many of my classmates were not so lucky.

Elizabeth Moore woke up sick on the morning of March 10, having passed a bleary-eyed night suffering the ill effects of a gastrointestinal bug. She missed Kentucky’s state-provided ACT and is now trying to study from home.

Phoebe Wagoner was at a Model UN conference on March 10, using her English skills to debate resolutions rather than diagram sentences. She missed her state-provided ACT and is now staying on her family's farm with no cellular service.

With standardized tests canceled until at least June, Elizabeth and Phoebe are now among the over 1 million juniors unsure of whether or when they’ll be able to bring their test scores up — or even get a score at all. Their experiences are encouraging colleges and universities around the country to make the increasingly necessary switch to a test-optional admission policy.

At a time filled with so much uncertainty, it’s understandable to want to cling to what traditions we can, to avoid unnecessary change where possible. But going test-optional is not some leap into the unknown where we discard one inequitable system for another.

There is bias everywhere in the college application process because there is bias everywhere in our society. But unlike standardized tests, other markers of academic potential and success, such as extracurricular activities or grade point averages (GPA), don’t claim to be a standard metric to directly compare applicants.

The whole point of holistic review is that schools evaluate the whole student, allowing them to demonstrate success within their own environment.

Standardized tests, by definition, claim to flatten out those differences. They purport to be an accurate reflection of all students’ abilities, thereby ignoring the impacts of context and circumstance that must be considered if schools are to make fair admissions decisions and give all students an equal chance. A student from a rural public school will likely have different opportunities and experiences from a student at an elite prep school, but transcripts, resumes, and essays can clarify those differences, rather than obscure them under the guise of numeric objectivity.

And that’s not to mention the evidence that such scores aren’t the most useful metric to begin with, given their limited correlation to postsecondary achievement. In fact, GPA does a better job predicting college success despite its lack of national standardization, perhaps because GPA is indicative of qualities like work ethic and perseverance as opposed to an aptitude for answering multiple-choice questions.

The fact of the matter is that there is no one measure of academic success. By positioning standardized tests as the predominant factor in admission decisions, colleges and universities disregard the myriad ways students can demonstrate their ability and, more importantly, their potential.

And this isn’t just a matter of equity — it’s a question of access.

It’s been said that standardized tests are some of the more accessible metrics used to evaluate students. But these tests are clearly not accessible if they’re not being offered. For many juniors, this pandemic means missing their only chance to get any SAT or ACT score at all, much less one that will qualify them for more competitive universities and scholarships.

It’s not only that standardized tests are expensive. Registering for these tests also requires institutional knowledge and a steady Internet connection. Getting to a Saturday test requires transportation and an open work schedule.

For a significant number of the upward of 700,000 students missing free in-school SAT testing because of covid-19 cancellations, there will never be another test administration they can feasibly attend.

These students are the ones already facing the greatest challenges in a crisis that has challenged all of us. The students without Internet access, without parents who can take Saturdays off work, are also the students most likely to be struggling to access online classes and coursework, to make ends meet in the midst of such a massive economic downturn.

Some would argue that this is an argument for increasing access to tests rather than decreasing their importance. And in general, I agree that the College Board and ACT, Inc. should work to reduce the unique barriers students from minority and under-resourced backgrounds face in taking these tests.

But we’re in the middle of a pandemic. It’s not just that tests have been canceled. It’s also that students in general and students from low-income families specifically are facing new burdens and commitments that make studying for and taking a test especially daunting. It’s unfair and unreasonable to expect students to take an hours-long virtual test when many can’t even find a quiet study space. Students are confronting enough challenges already — now is not the time for them to stress about their SAT score.

Many schools are only now changing their admission policies in response to this crisis. But hundreds of schools have been test-optional for years. We know that test-optional admissions help to reduce bias, increase diversity and make a quality postsecondary education more accessible because we have seen it happen in liberal arts colleges and STEM-focused institutes alike.

Covid-19 has upended traditional standards of education and college readiness in innumerable ways. But the broader issue here is not that students are losing a chance to demonstrate their success on a 1,600-point scale. It’s that they are being forced to hew to this single definition of success at a time when such conformity is increasingly impossible.