Declining test scores affect college admissions 

OSWEGO, N.Y.— Standardized testing organizations, specifically the ACT and SAT, have reported record low scores for the classes of 2022 and 2023, impacting the future of the college admissions process.

“I have been in admissions a long time and honestly, I never thought I’d see the day when I could imagine the world without the College Board and ACT. But I can picture that world now,” said Kate Foster-Anderson, associate director of admissions at SUNY Oswego. 

The decline in test scores is largely the result of virtual learning techniques instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Liverpool High School academic counselor Amanda Iannicello, most current high school seniors missed out on the critical thinking and processing skills that are built throughout middle school. 

“In addition, I think many of our students are still struggling emotionally with the effects of COVID-19,” said Iannicello. “Students are opting to take lighter course loads to allow them the space to be able to address mental health needs as well. With the lighter course loads comes less natural preparation that comes built into the high school curriculum.”

The decline, though impacted by COVID-19, has also been linked to a lack of preparedness for standardized testing. Schools lack certain resources that encourage student participation in these tests and students face certain challenges when trying to prepare. 

“The reason kids score lower could be a multitude of reasons- including a tough day, nerves, etc.  The SAT and ACT are just a snapshot of their success, a small moment in time, compared to their high school transcript that shows growth over a prolonged period,” said Iannicello.

Foster-Anderson says that while standardized testing is beneficial for providing a “common yardstick” approach to education it is also flawed. 

“They are flawed because they reward students who are good at taking this kind of exam; many highly intelligent students don’t score particularly well on these tests. And standardized test scores strongly correlate with family income level, so there is an equity issue, too,” said Foster-Anderson. 

Some schools have adapted learning-recovery strategies including hiring tutors and instituting SAT/ACT after-school study programs. These resources, however, are also not equally accessible to every school and every student. 

In 2022, about 42% of students met none of the four subject area benchmarks (math, reading, science and English) on the ACT. Each benchmark is linked to success in different college courses and serves as an indicator of future college success. Studies also show that while 1.35 million students took the exam last year that number still remains lower than it had been pre-pandemic. 

With this continued decline in test scores, some colleges and universities have switched their college admissions process to become test-optional. 

“The number of colleges who have gone test optional has been quite large, and we are seeing many colleges choose to remain test optional,” said Iannicello. “Colleges took a huge hit during COVID-19 and are still trying to recover and build their student bodies back up, so we are seeing more lax admissions requirements as they work to fill their schools.” 

“I think that the last three years have shown that standardized tests are not vital to college admissions,” said Foster-Anderson. “Since SUNY Oswego became test optional, many students have chosen not to submit test scores and we have been able to fully evaluate their applications without those numbers.” 

In 2021, the federal government made its largest single investment in American education to help students catch up. The $123 billion given to schools averages at about $2,400 per student. 

School districts were required to use at least 20% of that money on academic recovery throughout their schools. 

Despite the decline in scores, Iannicello has not entirely ruled out these standardized tests as useful. 

“We still encourage all students attending a four-year college to sit for the SAT/ACT at least once to have it in their back pocket. Having students sit for the SAT/ACT exam, even when it is not tied to anything, also shows dedication and commitment to the process for the student,” said Iannicello. 

Though these tests do not hold as much power within the college admissions process as they once did, Iannicello still encourages students to stay involved. She even urges students to keep their parents informed and involved with the college search process as this can sometimes encourage students to take a more thorough and thoughtful approach to college admissions. 

Regardless, Iannicello still maintains that students are more than their test scores.

“I believe their academic success day to day impacts them more than the SAT/ACT score,” said Iannicello.