- A change to U.S. News & World Report's closely watched college rankings system means standardized test scores for students at some institutions weren't considered for listings released Monday.
- The SAT and ACT scores of incoming first-year students typically make up 5% of a college's ranking. In the past, institutions with too few students submitting test scores had their scores effectively reduced. But for institutions that reported less than 50% of their fall 2020 and 2021 entering class scores, standardized tests did not affect placement on the new "Best Colleges" list for 2022-2023.
- Instead, the ranking used a blend of colleges' average six-year graduation rates and high school class standing. The mix historically correlates with the standardized test ranking factor, according to U.S. News.
The change in U.S. News' methodology comes as an increasing number of colleges are dropping standardized tests from their admissions requirements, often extending temporary suspensions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, over 1,700 colleges won’t require SAT or ACT scores for students admitted for fall 2023.
This year's change doesn't completely remove standardized test scores from the rankings' equation. They still count for colleges reporting scores for a majority of first-year students. For colleges that reported SAT and ACT scores for less than half of their incoming fall 2021 classes, U.S. News first sought to use standardized test scores from the previous year where available.
What metrics colleges are graded on has changed over the years. In 2019, U.S. News dropped colleges' acceptance rate from the methodology, and in 2004, the publication stopped considering the percentage of accepted students who enroll. U.S. News also used to categorize test-blind colleges, which don’t consider SAT and ACT scores during the admissions process, as unranked.
Standardized test scores have a relatively light weighting compared to other factors U.S. News considers. A category for graduate outcomes like graduation rates and indebtedness, for example, makes up 40% of a college's ranking score.
But critics say test scores have no place in evaluating colleges. Even 5% is too much, according to Harry Feder, executive director of FairTest, an organization that advocates for the limited use of standardized assessments.
Test scores correlate to family income and virtually nothing else, he said in a statement.
In 2021, FairTest, along with a dozen other higher education groups, wrote a public letter calling for U.S. News to stop using SAT and ACT scores in calculating its college rankings.
In response to the latest change, FairTest's public education director, Bob Schaeffer, challenged the efficacy of college rankings as a whole.
"Though U.S. News grudgingly revised its formula to stop punishing ACT/SAT-optional and test-blind/score-free schools for their policies, the rankings remain a revenue-generating scam not a valid tool for students, parents, counselors, or the media," said Schaeffer in a statement.
This year's announcement did not commit to making the changes permanent.
U.S. News said it made the change in response to the pandemic depressing supply and demand for the SAT and ACT, especially among low-income students. The publication maintains that its rankings are objective and fair.