Iowa universities may drop standardized testing requirement

The Board of Regents will vote Wednesday whether to require ACT or SAT scores

By: - January 11, 2022 2:29 pm

Iowa State University’s Memorial Union is a hub of campus activity. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Board of Regents will vote Wednesday on whether to make standardized testing, like the SAT and ACT, optional for applicants to Iowa’s public universities.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, applicants to the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa were required to submit either an ACT or a SAT score. The Board of Regents waived that requirement in August 2020, citing scheduling difficulties.  

“We know that many students have had difficulty taking a standardized test due to cancellations,” Board President Michael J. Richards said in a news release. “This action will eliminate a potential barrier.”

About a third of the class entering in the fall 2021 semester did not submit a standardized test score, following the waiver. 

The Board of Regents tasked a team to analyze how meaningful ACT scores were and to consider a “permanent test-optional environment.” 

The Admissions Study Team found ACT scores were not “strong predictors of student success outside of first year college grades.” A student’s high school grade-point average was better at predicting whether that individual would graduate in four years than their ACT score, the team found.

A Board of Regents analysis found high school grade-point average is a better indicator of college graduation than ACT scores. (Graph courtesy of Iowa Board of Regents)

The Admissions Study Team report also noted that standardized tests disadvantage low-income and rural applicants, who have less access to test preparation.

Universities across the country have made testing optional for undergraduate applicants in recent years. FairTest, a group that advocates against standardized testing, reported last month that more than 1,800 schools would not require SAT and ACT scores for the fall 2022 application cycle. Many of those schools, like Iowa’s universities, initially suspended the requirements due to the pandemic.

The Admissions Study Team wrote that requiring standardized test scores in Iowa “risks creating a competitive disadvantage” with other, test-optional institutions.

“Many Big 10 and Big 12 institutions also have pilot test optional policies, but three in the Big 10 and at least three in the Big 12 have made a permanent change to test optional admissions,” the report reads.

The Board of Regents will vote Wednesday afternoon. If the board votes to permanently become test optional, the proposal will go to the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee for approval.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.