Eleven organizations have called on U.S. News & World Report to stop using average SAT and ACT scores in its rankings of colleges.
Many groups and college administrators have long criticized the rankings, but New America, a liberal research organization, hopes the pandemic will provide momentum to the calls for change. The organizations joining the effort include the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
“We write today requesting you end the practice of using average SAT and ACT scores of incoming students to calculate your Best Colleges rankings,” says an open letter released by the groups. “Using average scores of incoming students to rank an institution has never made sense, but is even more preposterous during a deadly pandemic. The Best Colleges ranking has been the leading college rankings publication for years, and its impact on consumers and institutions alike cannot be overstated.”
The letter continued, “The ongoing pandemic has made it difficult if not impossible for many to take the SAT or ACT. At the same time, a rise in test-blind and test-optional admissions policies has made it difficult to compare institutions using this metric.”
U.S. News counted average SAT or ACT scores as 5 percent of the rankings last fall.
In June 2020, U.S. News said that it would rank test-blind colleges (those that will not look at SAT or ACT scores in admissions), but its announcement had little impact last year because of the magazine’s use of the previous year’s SAT and ACT averages. And the magazine has not said how it plans to include those colleges, which include the University of California system, in its annual rankings going forward.
A spokeswoman for U.S. News declined to comment on the open letter.
Stephen Burd, a senior writer and editor with the education policy program at New America, said that problems with rankings go “far beyond” the way they are based on test scores. But because “U.S. News rankings aren’t going anywhere,” it’s important to start somewhere.
Angel B. Pérez, CEO of NACAC, said the group was just asking U.S. News to do what it said it would do in 2008. He said that NACAC has asked U.S. News three times previously to drop test scores from the magazine. He said that, in response to the request in 2008, U.S. News said that it would change its rankings if a “meaningful” percentage of colleges dropped the SAT/ACT requirements.
U.S. News did indeed publicly commit to doing so — “If a meaningful percentage of colleges drop their SAT or ACT requirements for admission, then U.S. News will change our ranking model. So far, that is not happening,” the magazine’s website said in 2008 in response to a NACAC report.
The vast majority of colleges that were not already test optional switched to test-optional or test-blind policies last year during the pandemic. Although some colleges switched for only a year, many have since extended their policies to be for at least two years.
The groups seeking a change from U.S. News noted that one college guide — Fiske Guide to Colleges — has already dropped the reporting of average SAT and ACT scores for colleges it reviews.
“Rather than publish inaccurate and misleading data, we have decided to omit any reporting of score ranges for the foreseeable future. To do otherwise would be a disservice to our readers,” said Edward B. Fiske, editor of the guide.
Burd acknowledged that U.S. News may not want to change its approach. But he said Monday’s release of the letter was only the start of a campaign for change. The campaign will also include a petition for individuals to sign.
The group’s open letter also says that test scores disproportionately hurt minority and low-income students.
“Standardized admissions tests benefit high-income and predominantly white students who can afford expensive tutoring — teaching them tricks to taking the tests — or to take the exams multiple times to improve their scores, while low-income students and students of color don’t have access to the same resources,” the letter says. “As a result, using test scores in selective college admissions disadvantages these students. Any organization that wishes to advance racial and socioeconomic equity in education should understand this. By using the test scores in the rankings, U.S. News is rewarding and helping perpetuate a gatekeeping tactic that is discriminatory.”
The other organizations joining the letter include the Education Trust; FairTest; the Institute for Higher Education Policy; Student Voice; the Hope Center; the Institute for College Access & Success; uAspire; the University of Southern California Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice; and Young Invincibles.
“We are not the first, nor will we be the last, to criticize this practice,” the letter said in conclusion. “But with the many challenges students and colleges have faced during the pandemic, removing standardized admissions test scores is simply the right thing to do.”