Iowa Board of Regents votes to remove standardized testing requirement

By: - January 12, 2022 4:29 pm

The campanile is a symbol of Iowa State University and is located on central campus. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Board of Regents voted unanimously Wednesday to permanently remove the standardized testing requirement for admission to Iowa’s public universities. 

“Our findings continued to indicate that the tests do have some value on predicting first year GPA (grade-point average), but ultimately had a limited relationship to the likelihood of graduation,” Chief Academic Officer Rachel Boon said.

The University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa waived the ACT or SAT testing requirement in 2020, due to scheduling difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the testing was optional, the Board assigned a team to evaluate whether the test scores were an effective measure of how successful a student would be in college.

The Admissions Study Team determined that GPA was a better indicator than ACT scores of how likely a student was to graduate in four years. 

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

The team also reported that standardized tests sometimes presented challenges for low-income or rural students who had less access to testing, based on conversations with school districts across the state. 

With this vote, Iowa would become one of many universities to extend or permanently implement a pandemic-era pause on standardized testing. The Admissions Study Team said transitioning to a test-optional policy would keep Iowa’s public universities competitive with peer institutions that made the change.

“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.

Boon said the “widespread” shift to test-optional policies created a sense of urgency for Iowa to make a change. Regent David Barker said he voted in favor reluctantly, recognizing the need to stay competitive with other universities.

“I worry that the collective decision that many universities are making to de-emphasize… standardized testing might be a mistake,” he said. “I think standardized testing has value, and it has more value the more students take them.”

With the Board’s vote in favor, the proposal now heads to the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee for approval.

The Regents will keep the same mathematical formula to determine automatic admission of Iowa residents. The “Regents Admission Index” (RAI) uses high school GPA, relevant high school coursework and the ACT score to generate one numerical score for applicants. If the score is high enough, the student is admitted automatically.

Board spokesperson Josh Lehman said the formula will remain in use, even after ACT testing – an essential part of the equation – becomes optional.

“If a student wanted the automatic admissions route, they would need to take the test in order to get an RAI score,” Lehman explained in an email. “But students who don’t have a test score would be able to be admitted by individual review, just not having an RAI score.”

Boon reiterated that Iowa’s public universities will still consider ACT scores, even while recognizing schools are able to make “well-informed admissions decisions” without the test.

“I want to be clear: This does not mean that the ACT has no value,” Boon said. “We continue to believe the ACT does have value.”

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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.