Iowa regents vote to no longer require SAT or ACT scores from applicants

Dive Brief:

  • The Iowa Board of Regents unanimously voted Wednesday in favor of ending a standardized test requirement for first-time undergraduate students seeking to enroll in the state’s three public universities. 
  • The vote moves the proposal to a committee of the state’s legislature for approval, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. It comes after a team studying admissions found standardized tests were not strong predictors of overall student success, only of first-year college grades. The team also found students from low-income and rural backgrounds had inconsistent access to test preparation programs as well as testing itself, causing admissions disadvantages. 
  • Iowa’s public colleges would still consider test scores from students who choose to submit them. And Iowa high school students would still need to submit standardized test scores to receive automatic admission to Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa.

Dive Insight:

The regents’ decision is another success for the national test-optional movement, which has experienced a boom during the pandemic over safety concerns and sometimes limited availability of in-person proctored tests. Almost 80% of four-year colleges are not requiring standardized test scores from students seeking to enroll in fall 2022, according to FairTest, a group advocating for narrow uses of standardized assessments.

The new test-optional policy does not change the Regent Admission Index, according to Rachel Boon, chief academic officer for the Iowa Board of Regents. The index, which dates back to 2009, takes into account in-state students’ SAT or ACT scores, their high school GPA and the number of high school courses completed in core subject areas to determine whether they qualify for automatic admission to the state’s three universities as first-year students.

“We want to enact an alternative admissions pathway for students who don’t have SAT or ACT scores,” Boon said during the regents’ meeting Wednesday. “The admissions officers can make really well-informed decisions without needing this test. It gives them flexibility.”

Each state university would individually review the applications of all first-time undergraduate students who do not submit test scores.

Regent David Barker indicated he was voting yes reluctantly and expressed concern about the increasing number of colleges dropping testing requirements. 

“I believe standardized testing has value and tests have more value the more students take them,” Barker said during the meeting. But in the current environment, voting yes is the only reasonable action to take, Barker said.

Barker also asked Boon if more admissions staff would be needed if the policy change drives an increase in applications that must be reviewed individually. Boon responded that a need for more staff is not anticipated.

The regents’ decision Wednesday isn’t the first time Iowa has tried test-optional policies. Leaders temporarily waived testing requirements in August 2020. About a third of the fall 2021 class did not submit standardized test scores, according to board documents.

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