The already-arduous college application process comes with an additional decision high school seniors must grapple with this year: whether or not to submit their ACT or SAT scores.

Many colleges and universities went test-optional during Covid — and a number of these systems have decided to extend this policy into the post-Covid world. But while the universities tout this as a boon to students, it’s important to raise the question of whom it really benefits.

In an article for New York Magazine, W/A Senior Advisor Jeff Selingo recently shared his perspective, noting that the opinions and outcomes are mixed on whether optionality is an equitable play.

MIT is one of the first to return to requiring test scores among the most elite institutions. MIT sees test scores as a way to level parts of the playing field, particularly for low-income students. Wake Forest, as Selingo points out, has been test-optional since 2008, and their “…longitudinal analysis that found that applicants who don’t submit scores — who are twice as likely to be low income, students of color, or the first in their family to go to college — have a lower GPA their first year at Wake Forest, but it narrows each subsequent year to a .03 difference by graduation with minimal difference in graduation rates.”

But even if more colleges and universities lean into the test-optional model, don’t expect to see the SAT or ACT immediately go away. About one-third of states use ACT/SAT as part of their federal accountability system. ESSA, the 2015 reauthorization of ESEA, requires states to implement a measure of “school quality and student success,” and that may include postsecondary readiness. Most states include post-secondary readiness as a part of high school report cards, and although there are multiple ways to meet that requirement, there continues to be a reliance on college entrance exams.

  • 29 states require all students take the ACT or SAT
  • 19 states use ACT or SAT as their high school assessment
  • 32 utilize ACT or SAT scores as part of school accountability

Interestingly, North Carolina – home of Wake Forest – requires that every student is given the opportunity to take the ACT or SAT. The state’s accountability system includes students’ scores as one component of the state’s college readiness indicator. While Massachusetts does not require the exam be offered by districts, nor does it include scores as part of its accountability system.

It is unlikely that we will see dramatic changes to state accountability systems in K12 until ESEA is reauthorized and federal updates to assessment and accountability policy. Some states are considering other options, like Kentucky L3 and interim assessment pilots in Louisiana and Montana. For now, hundreds of thousands of students across every state will continue to sit for ACT and SAT exams each year in hopes of securing admission and unlocking scholarship dollars for their first-choice universities.

StateACT / SAT used as Accountability indicatorACT / SAT participation required
AlabamaYesYes (ACT)
ArizonaYesYes (ACT)
ArkansasYesYes (ACT)
ColoradoYesYes (SAT)
ConnecticutYesYes (SAT)
Delaware(SAT) essayYes (SAT)
District of ColumbiaYesNo
HawaiiYesYes (ACT)
IllinoisYesYes (SAT)
IndianaNoYes (SAT)
KansasYesYes (either SAT or ACT)
KentuckyYesYes (ACT)
LouisianaYesYes (ACT)
MaineNoYes (SAT)
MarylandYesYes (either SAT or ACT)
MichiganNoNo (PSAT)
MississippiYesYes (ACT)
MontanaYesYes (ACT)
NebraskaYesYes (ACT)
NevadaNoYes (ACT)
New HampshireNoYes (SAT)
New JerseyNoNo
New MexicoYesYes (SAT)
New YorkYesNo
North CarolinaYesYes (ACT)
North DakotaYesYes (ACT)
OhioYesYes (either SAT or ACT)
Rhode IslandNoYes (SAT)
South CarolinaYesNo
South DakotaYesNo
TennesseeYesYes (either SAT or ACT)
West VirginiaYesYes (SAT)
WisconsinYesYes (ACT)
WyomingYesYes (ACT)