Standardized testing a path to consider on learning journey

As the pandemic hits the three-year mark, the number of students taking standardized tests and submitting scores to colleges has declined. Most colleges continue to be “test-optional” with their admissions requirements. For the college graduating class of 2026, College Transitions reports that half of students submitted scores compared to 77 percent before the pandemic.

The 2022 SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report published that around half of Vermont high school students in the classes of 2022 and 2023 took standardized tests. With this 50-50 split in deciding whether to test, are there benefits to standardized testing?

Most colleges publish the score ranges of their admitted students. Some test-optional colleges have detailed their testing trends. For the college class of 2026, here are the percentage of students admitted without submitting scores: University of Virginia at 28 percent, Boston College at 33 percent and Brown University at 42 precent. There is a significant difference between those admitted with scores compared to those without.

Last year, Georgetown University changed from being test-optional to being test-required. Georgetown explained that during prior years of being test-optional, they still admitted most students with scores. With their applicants, 80 percent submitted scores. Of those admitted, 92 percent submitted scores. This shows an advantage to submitting scores.

There are four different test policies that each college can consider for its admissions requirements. The first is test-required for the SAT or ACT. University of Florida-Gainesville has always required scores, before, during and after the pandemic. Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently reverted to requiring scores.

The second option is test-flexible. Students choose which type of standardized test to submit, such as SAT, ACT, AP exams or IB tests. The Common Application allows students to submit various score reports as part of their application credentials.

The third option offered by most colleges is test-optional. Applicants can decide whether to submit scores. Colleges have a holistic approach to evaluating the application including the transcript, essays, activities and recommendations. Test scores can be an additional element to consider.

The fourth alternative is test-blind, where colleges do not consider scores at all. For example, The University of California schools will not consider test scores in admissions decisions or scholarship awards.

Standardized testing typically begins with the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) in early October of junior year. Scores are released in December. Students are not required to take the PSAT. For the Vermont high school class of 2023, 49 percent took the PSAT, according to the 2022 SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report.

The PSAT is a nearly three-hour timed test that gauges a student’s results and identifies areas for improvement. The PSAT is an indicator for NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). Historically, around 3 percent of overall PSAT test takers are recognized as scholarship candidates.

Each state has a specific NMSQT selection score index. This score range identifies top students who may qualify for various academic scholarships and recognition.

The estimated NMSQT index for the Vermont high school class of 2024 is 210 to 215. Across the border in Massachusetts, the score range is 219 to 222. This means that Vermont top-scoring students have an advantage for this honor compared to many other states.

Junior year is also the time that students can choose to take the SAT and ACT. These are three-hour exams. For the Vermont high school class of 2022 (current college freshmen), 48 percent took the SAT, according to the 2022 SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report, with 53 percent female and 46 percent male.

Vermont SAT benchmark results for English, reading and writing report 78 percent of females and 80 percent of males hit the competency. In math, 61 percent of males and 46 percent of females achieved the benchmark in Vermont.

It is important for the student to discuss the usefulness of standardized testing with their guidance counselor, teachers and family. Test prep is a commitment based on a student’s ability and attitude. Like the athletic ethic, practice makes perfect.

Even if a student takes standardized tests, they are not required to submit them to test-optional colleges. Evaluating scores can help in developing a college strategy and list.

The Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken,” represents the choice between two paths. Standardized testing is an option to consider depending on a student’s goals. Scores can be another tool in the overall learning journey.

(Margo Bartsch founded College Essay Coach, a full-service college admission business and has been an adjunct professor in business at Champlain College and at Middlebury College.)