State of the Facts
The COVID-19 pandemic altered how high school students receive education, including how students prove college readiness through standardized tests.
The two primary standardized tests used by colleges in the admissions process are the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Testing test, or ACT.
As SAT and ACT tests moved online, several colleges stopped requiring these tests as part of student applications. In the second year of the pandemic, many colleges permanently made the tests optional for admission including the University of Virginia, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Cornell University along with other institutions.
The University of California system, which oversees nine schools offering undergraduate degrees, is among the systems that no longer require standardized tests. According to the university, it initially eliminated standardized test requirements because of the outbreak of the virus. The system’s Board of Regents voted to permanently drop the SAT and ACT tests as admission requirements through 2024 and replace them with a new, different test. 
Some colleges and universities went test-optional before the pandemic including Salisbury University in Maryland, Gettysburg University in Pennsylvania, Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
About 1.5 million high school students took the SAT at least once in 2021, down 700,000 from 2020, or a 30% decrease. From 2019 to 2020, the number of students taking the SAT remained flat.
The number of students taking the ACT also fell from 2020 to 2021, with 22% fewer students taking the test.
Aside from fewer colleges and universities requiring the SAT or ACT, the decrease in college enrollment could also be a factor in the drop in the number of students taking the exams.
About 62.7% of 2020 high school graduates enrolled in colleges and universities in Fall 2020, compared with 66.2% of 2019 high school graduates enrolled in Fall 2019, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data on college enrollment for Fall 2021 is not yet available.
White, non-Hispanic students represent about 41% of all SAT test-takers. About 65% of white, non-Hispanic new high school graduates enrolled in college. The Black, non-Hispanic share of SAT test-takers decreased since 2017 from 13.2% to 11.89%. As of 2020, about 65% of Black, non-Hispanic new high school graduates enrolled in college. The Asian, non-Hispanic share of SAT test-takers increased from 9.2% to 10.2% during the same time.
Educators and students have accused the SAT and ACT of being biased against nonwhite students. In a 2020 lawsuit, students accused the University of California of discrimination for considering SAT or ACT scores on an optional basis, partly because of the racial disparities in exam results.
In 2020, the average SAT score for all students was 1051. Asian, non-Hispanic students had the highest average SAT score among race and ethnicity groups with an average of 1217. Black, non-Hispanic students averaged a score of 927, among the lowest for any race or ethnicity group, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Read more on the costs and benefits of attending college, and how much student loan debt was forgiven in 2021.
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