May 11, 2020
During the upcoming academic year (2020-21) the University of New England (UNE) will pilot a test-blind policy for undergraduate admissions under which most applicants’ SAT and ACT scores will not be considered among criteria for college acceptance.
The policy is an expansion of the university’s current test-optional policy, launched in 2018, which resulted in the largest and most ethnically diverse freshman class in UNE history without any reduction in academic quality. The new test-blind policy will be adopted, in part, due to statistical evidence that standardized test scores are not a reliable indicator of how undergraduate students will perform in college and, in part, due to complications in the administration of such tests amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to UNE President James Herbert, the university’s test-optional policy, while intended to remove undue stress to prospective students and to encourage individuals from first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented backgrounds to apply, did not go far enough. “At UNE, we are always looking for ways to increase access to higher education, and we have found that our move to a test-optional policy does not completely remove the barrier associated with College Board and ACT standardized testing,” he said. “Prior to launching our test-optional policy, one of the most frequently asked questions by prospective UNE students was, ‘What are your average test scores?’ Under the test-optional policy, in addition to asking that same question, UNE applicants were asking, ‘Should I submit my test scores or not?’ UNE’s adoption of the new test-blind policy, which takes standardized test scores completely off the table, eliminates both of these questions – and resulting stress – from our prospective UNE students.”
Scott Steinberg, vice president of University Admissions, says the focus on standardized tests is causing more anxiety than ever for high school students, their parents, and guidance counselors, given the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. Both winter and spring administrations of the SAT and ACT have been canceled, and it is not yet clear when students will be able to take these tests. He is also concerned that the College Board and ACT are considering the administration of online, at-home versions of the exams. He says such a “solution” would amplify socio-economic and geographical inequities already associated with the tests, noting that Census data reveals only 77% of households in the U.S. (80.7% in Maine) have the broadband Internet capabilities that would be required to take the online versions. UNE’s test-blind policy, he explains, makes the biases – inherent and otherwise -- in standardized tests a moot point in the eyes of admissions counselors.
Even putting current concerns generated by the pandemic aside, Steinberg says the adoption of a test-blind policy makes sense for UNE, which is only the fourth institution of higher education in the U.S. to implement such a measure. “Our research has shown that a student’s performance in high school is the most significant predictor of academic success at UNE,” he stated. “Standardized tests provide very little – if any – incremental value beyond the high school record and grade point average.”
UNE’s test-blind policy will go into effect for the 2020-21 admissions cycle and will pertain to students who plan to begin college in the spring and fall of 2021. While some exceptions to the policy apply, as outlined on UNE’s Undergraduate Admissions webpage, all excepted groups, aside from some international students, will be able to choose whether or not they submit test scores.