Most of Texas’ public colleges aren’t requiring students to send SAT or ACT scores for admissions at the moment, a policy called test-optional that gained nationwide popularity amid the pandemic.
But Texas lawmakers pushed back on this concept earlier this year, proposing a bill that would have forced public colleges to consider standardized test scores in undergraduate and graduate admissions decisions. Then last month, they scaled back the bill, which would now only require public institutions to review scores if an undergraduate applicant chooses to submit them.
The changes came after state officials expressed concerns a testing decree could disadvantage historically underrepresented students. The debate over the usefulness of standardized assessments and whether they are prejudicial tools has ratcheted up over the past few years, matching a racial reckoning across industries in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in 2020.
Under Texas’ new proposal, the state’s public colleges would still be mandated to consider test scores for graduate programs, though exams could not be “the primary criterion to end consideration” of their applications.
The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved the current iteration of the proposal, passing it to the House of Representatives. This year’s state legislative session ends May 29.
What are the concerns?
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, said that some of her constituents who are minorities told her they were concerned about the continued pause on testing mandates, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
She said they worried their children were excelling on the exams “and yet it's not even being considered.”
However, a test-optional policy doesn’t prohibit an applicant from sending in a score. Most colleges that switched up their admissions rules during the coronavirus crisis didn’t ban consideration of tests altogether, in what's called being test-free or test-blind.
Colleges started to flip to test-optional policies in 2020, when COVID-19's spread shut down common exam sites like K-12 schools.
Now, more than 1,800 colleges are not requiring entrance exams for fall 2023, according to FairTest, an organization advocating for limited use of standardized assessments. Of those, only 80 or so are test-free, according to the group.
Test-optional critics often raise concerns similar to those Kolkhorst cited — that the exams’ diminished role in admissions will disadvantage students with poor grades, preventing them from shining when they do well on standardized tests.
Exam providers like the College Board, which administers the SAT, also maintain their products can link historically marginalized students who perform well on the exam with scholarship opportunities.
However, testing opponents argue the opposite: that the SAT and ACT favors wealthy students who can afford extensive tutoring, thus limiting opportunities for their low-income and other marginalized peers.
FairTest also opposes the bill. Its public education director, Bob Schaeffer, said in an email the organization has not observed “flaws in the current system that the proposal would correct.”
Under Texas law, public colleges must automatically admit in-state students in the top 10% of their high school classes, though for University of Texas-Austin, it’s the top 6%. The bill would apply to those students who don’t gain automatic admission.
UT-Austin, one of Texas’ flagship institutions, announced this week it would not mandate admissions exam scores for fall 2024, though it encouraged students to submit them.
Other public colleges, like the prominent Texas Tech University, have extended their test-optional pilots longer — Texas Tech’s runs through fall 2025.
Representatives from both institutions did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.