The trend to deemphasize standardized tests in admissions decisions at U.S. colleges and universities moved ahead this week.
The College Board, the organization that administers the tests, said it will discontinue some and improve others. Subject tests such as biology, chemistry and world history, for example, will be discontinued in the United States but not abroad.
"We are no longer offering the subject tests in the U.S.," the College Board announced January 19. "Because subject tests are used internationally for a wider variety of purposes, we will provide two more administrations in May and June of 2021 for students in international locations."
Subject tests have been on the decline since they peaked in 2011.
"Most universities have eliminated Subject Test requirements, either making the Subject Tests optional or not considering scores at all," the website explained. "Overall, Subject Tests have played less and less of a role in admissions every year, except at the 50-60 most selective colleges in the country."
"In addition, the language Subject Tests were mainly being taken by native speakers, which didn't give colleges helpful information in making admissions decisions," College Board continued, "so colleges started to discount strong scores on those exams."
"Finally," tweeted high-school counselor Brittanie Davis in Indiana, accompanied with an applause emoji.
The importance and weight of these standardized tests has been debated for decades. Students who are strong test-takers and experience little anxiety while sitting for the hours-long exams say they are a show of aptitude and accomplishment.
Others say the test measures test-taking ability more than knowledge. The emphasis on science and math diminishes the importance of the arts or non-STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math).
Another argument against the tests is criticism that they lack educational equality. Many university applicants are handicapped if they cannot afford tutoring or better schools that teach to the test, a practice of classroom instruction that focuses on preparing students to answer the standardized test questions correctly, opponents say.
"Growing concerns about the SAT catering to more privileged and affluent students may also have factored into this decision," the College Board wrote on its website.
Remaining at issue are Advanced Placement (AP) tests, where students take accelerated AP courses in high school that can substitute for required courses in a student's freshman year. Some students can save thousands of dollars by testing out of the freshman requirements. But not all high schools offer AP courses.
"Getting rid of these additional testing requirements may increase perceived accessibility in standardized testing," the College Board reported. However, "students also have unequal access to (AP) exams."
AP tests cost $95. The shuttered Subject Tests cost $30.
The College Board also decided to discontinue the optional SAT essay, which will be available through the June 2021 SAT administration.
"This decision recognizes that there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing. The tasks on the SAT Reading and Writing and Language tests are among the most effective and predictive parts of the SAT."
The essay is additional and optional to those tests.
"In my opinion, this is not the best move. These and the essay were optional ways of showing a student's growth or ability outside the standardized multiple choice," tweeted Victoria Saxe.
Students who are registered to take the SAT with essay this spring can cancel the essay portion without charge. The College Board said it will reach out to students directly regarding these changes.
The College Board also said it is committed to making the SAT a more streamlined, digital process.
"The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being innovative and adaptive to what lies ahead. We are committed to making the SAT a more flexible tool, and we are making substantial investments to do so."
The College Board said it plans to allocate seats that would have gone to those taking subject tests to students who wish to take the SAT, as well as be prepared to add to and create administrations in the fall if the pandemic continues to impact testing.
EducationUSA, which is part of the U.S. Department of State and offers information to applicants and students outside the U.S., have offered assistance through their offices.
If you are an international student, more information on how to register for the SAT can be found here.