Opinion | Many colleges have waived ACT, SAT tests amid pandemic. Why hasn't U-M?

Eva McGregor Dodds is past president of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling

I've admired the University of Michigan’s recent commitments to increasing access for all students to the college admission process.  Yet the announcement many have hoped would come in the past months has not materialized. Why is Ann Arbor’s campus stalling regarding going test-optional for the Class of 2021?  

The “leaders" and "the best” have remained silent about this equity issue as more than 20 colleges in Michigan have gone test-optional.  Nationally, the University of California system and many other highly selective schools went test-optional for the fall, including the University of Virginia.  Requiring an ACT/SAT score for the fall 2020 application cycle creates an admission barrier that most negatively impacts urban and rural students.  A simple policy change must happen to release the mounting pressure on students and their school counselors.  Each day, the unsaid message to rising seniors gets louder, “If you can’t take a standardized test, the University of Michigan does not want you.”

School counselors are measuring classrooms and attempting to create socially distant testing opportunities, resulting in elevated stress and fewer seats.  An in-person summer testing is scheduled for the ACT, yet it's cancelled where many U of M applicants would test.  There is not a single testing site open in Detroit this month.  

SAT is allowing those registered for cancelled tests to have priority registration for the late August exam, leaving students planning for initial August testing without a slot. Other students are depending on a state-sponsored SAT to happen in late September or mid-October.  High school testing sites are scrambling to host school day testing, but coming up short attempting to find a free day in the curriculum. 

On June 2, the College Board asked colleges to realize that “the densely populated areas hardest hit by COVID-19 … will face the greatest challenge in finding open seats because of scarce test centers.”  It continued to state that if students had access to testing they may have only taken it once, or may not be able to submit testing before admission deadlines.  

Can pre-COVID test scores be equated to results from tests taken wearing masks while practicing CDC guidelines?  They certainly cannot be compared to unvalidated, online ACT testing rolling out this fall.  How can the University reconcile requiring scores that cannot be evaluated or accessed equitably?  Current U-M policy favors students who have already tested or have access to testing leaving those most impacted by COVID-19 without an application option. It also contributes to the confusion created by ever changing updates from ACT and the College Board.  

Jayne Calfin Fonash, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) asked its members (the University of Michigan is a member of both NACAC and the Michigan Association for Admission Counseling) to "reassess their admission criteria in the light of overwhelming challenges faced by many students."  She asked higher education members to consider if their COVID-19 impacted admission process will be reliable and most importantly will it "preserve access for all students, including low-income, first-generation and other vulnerable students."  Currently, the University of Michigan would have to answer "No."

It is the responsibility of higher education leaders to uphold COVID-19 admission policies that maintain equitable access for all students.  Regents, please use the national reputation of excellence afforded to the University to be a proactive advocate for equity and access to admission options for the Class of 2021.  End the silence by sharing how the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor will facilitate equal access to the admission process for all students. Your future, the Class of 2021, is waiting for clear messaging.  We all are.


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Thu, 06/11/2020 - 8:37am

Why not just remove all standards. Next you'll want to just give a four year degree to people who are admitted while making any attendance during that time optional.

You're not making the world a better place or a utopia like you think you are be asking for lowered standards for groups of people. There was a time when teacher would tell parents their son/daughter was failing and the parents would ask their child what they had done wrong. Today when parents are told the same thing they tell the teacher he/she is wrong and their child isn't to blame.

“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”

Kim Lifton
Thu, 06/11/2020 - 10:50am

Is there a reason you chose a quote focused only on men and are commenting anonymously? Standardized tests are not the best indicators of success in college. Grades are. So I am curious why you think that ditching the tests during this difficult time is such a bad idea.

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 1:11pm

It looks like you are missing the point and want to insert your own agenda here. The issue isn't about removing standards. It is about ensuring the same standards are being applied to all students. So using your own logic, the students should be held to the same standards. No one disagrees. You've just gone right past the point.

Kim Lifton
Thu, 06/11/2020 - 10:43am

Bravo, Eva. I hope UM listens to you.

Fri, 06/12/2020 - 8:21pm

You're part of the problem, not part of any solutions

Steve Smewing
Fri, 06/12/2020 - 10:36am

I am struggling to believe this "opinion" piece is not a scripted political piece. It reads like something that is just ridiculous and quite simply nonsense. If we buy into this line of thinking then why even require that a college student have a high school record. After all, it is the minority group that is most likely to have not finished their k-12 education. Or the minority group will have lower overall test score history as another way to put it. There would be no end to the madness and this matter already went one way and then the pendulum has recently swung back with no reason for another inward examination. And then there is the massive elephant in the room. This matter has recently been litigated in the US Supreme court from various other angles. As they say, verdicts have consequences. Live with not only the verdict. And the biggest thing voters, voters are interchangeable with people who reside in the state and those people have voted and the majority has been recorded. Statewide ballots have consequences as well.

For a long time, there were special scores for special groups that had a demonstrative goal of dogoodery. And after time and during that time it was shown that dogoodery has the same number of victims as it has those it helps. The same exact number. There is no other result possible when those who are admitted into anything have a finite number. It is really simple. If 500 people get a spot do to dogoodery, there will be exactly 500 people who would have gotten in if not for the dogoodery. People who were actually more deserving and have by almost all other measures earned that place that was taken from them.

And the final point and the final dagger. If you want to be the best candidate you must earn that position and that position is earned. That was what came of all the recent court and policy discussions. This opinion piece is just a group who are trying the winds to see if they can require their special status of being the victim or being in the more challenging group when there is no study offered of the majority group to set a number where each group hypothetically can coast too based on just their race or some other victim group. Remember, for every person who is admitted from dogoodery a person who rightfully earned that spot will not now get that spot.

In business, these days and the days before there have been minority success stories and they all read the same. They had to be twice as good in order to make it in this world. And these people who succeeded despite the odds all have something now. They have something that no one can take from them. They have succeeded despite the odds and they earned it. No one can ever take that away from them and what does THAT tell others? It tells others that you can do it despite the odds. Look there. There is a person that is standing proud because even though they had to fight harder than others they won on their own merits and nobody can take that from them.

Sat, 06/13/2020 - 8:23am

If Univ of MI makes a change, it won’t be because of this article. Of course they are aware and discussing the stressors of COVID—for all of their population. They can move at the pace they determine, as they have hundreds of decisions they are confronting. The author left out she is a private consultant for a company who charges thousands of dollars to package kids through the admissions process by editing their essays, suggesting activities for them...etc. The talk about barriers in place...she is also guilty of keeping the barrier up by servicing families that are affluent. She is also giving an (unfair) advantage by being an aid for those that can afford help. To call out Univ. Of Michigan for an inequity issue you are perpetuating yourself is a swing and a miss.

Sat, 06/13/2020 - 9:02am

Great points! As a parent of a high school junior, all ACT tests that my son has been registered for have been cancelled. My son cannot apply to UofM as of today because he has no score. It is maddening.

Eva Dodds
Fri, 06/19/2020 - 5:52pm

In reading the comments reacting to my opinion piece, I realize that it may not be clear why I support test optional admission for the Class of 2021. Timing and logistics are the issues at play. There are not enough seats to test students before the admission season. For example, 14 high schools in the state of Michigan were open (nine were private schools) for June ACT testing. (0 open in UP.) School counselors and college advisors are trying to make sure that seniors get priority in registering to take the fall ACT or SAT as juniors were not able to take the April 14th SAT at school or any other ACT/SAT spring testing. (Last SAT given was in December. Last ACT was in February. ) There will be one fall SAT offered to public school students as arranged by their high school. If their high school chooses to offer this testing in October, it will be too late to apply to U of M by 11/1 (as stated on the admissions website regarding fall testing.) Messaging to the Class of 2021 about how these testing issues will be handled by Michigan would benefit students. Being shut out of testing options month after month without an understanding of how to move forward is stressful. Michigan State University and many others went test optional for one cycle, or stated that they will evaluate an application without an ACT/SAT score if student cannot test before deadline. This list shows why colleges went test optional (if for Class of 2021 issues.) https://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/Optional-Growth-Chronology.pdf Public universities often have protocols and approval processes and we need to allow for that. Especially during Covid. But watching other public education systems prioritize moving forward on this issue compelled me to advocate for clearer messaging from the University acknowledging to students that they realize the issues and will work to support the Class of 2021's admission process. Perhaps something like "We see you and will be following up with best practices to support your process soon..."

Michelle Gilbert
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 10:26pm

Thanks for writing this piece. Many of the July ACT testing sites have just been cancelled, putting even more pressure on students who will now compete to get a coveted spot to take the test (maybe) in September. I would think that our most sophisticated colleges and universities could recognize the best of the best students without standardized tests.