UI makes standardized tests optional for 2021 applicants

By Connor Ciecko

The University of Illinois announced last week that standardized tests, namely the ACT and SAT, will no longer be required for students applying to the university for the 2021-22 school year. This follows a previous decision made by the Chicago and Springfield campuses to do the same. The university stresses, however, that this change will be temporary and will not be a part of a greater admissions overhaul.

“Test scores are only a small part of what we look at in the admissions review process,” said Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions. “We will consider the context of all of these factors in our holistic review of a student’s application.”

Students who did not have the opportunity to take a standardized test or who do not want to share their scores will not be at a disadvantage to other students, the statement from the university said.

According to the Office of Admissions website, other factors the university looks at when considering admissions are high school course levels and difficulty, grades, extracurricular activities and major-related experience.

Standardized tests have been a subject of controversy in the past, with opponents arguing that less wealthy students have more difficulty demonstrating their knowledge on the exams due to school quality and have limited access to tutoring and voluntary testing dates which can often raise scores. However, according to the SAT’s annual report, students using fee waivers, which are typically given to low-income families, did not score significantly less than those who did not.

There have also been concerns that state-level standardized testing could also be more of a political and business game rather than a matter of education.

In 2016, the state of Illinois moved away from offering a free ACT exam and instead awarded a $14.3 million contract to CollegeBoard to offer the SAT for free instead, leaving the previous test behind after 15 years. ACT spokesperson Ed Colby alleged that a member of the state review board had a bias against the test and may have influenced the decision, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.

In 2015, less than 6,000 high school graduates in Illinois took the SAT compared to about 145,000 2019 graduates. Respectively, about 157,000 took the ACT in 2015 and 50,000 in 2019.

Even with the change in the mandatory test, the ACT has seen a rise in the average score in Illinois. In 2017, the last year it was offered statewide for free, the average composite score was 21.4 out of 36, while this jumped to 24.3 in 2019, despite the drop in test attendance. Colby said that this rise was likely due to the test being taken mainly by students who are actively preparing for college.

CollegeBoard, the company behind the SAT, has been the leader in advanced courses for years, with their AP exams used nationwide for earning college credit. This year’s AP tests were administered online. The University of Illinois will be weighting AP scores and awarding credit based on the same criteria they have in the past.

The university expects to return to its testing requirement for the 2022-23 admissions class.

Photo by Connor Ciecko