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Despite Pandemic, Florida Universities Won't Waive Testing Requirement For Applicants

Changing the testing requirement is up to the State University System’s Board of Governors. It has not, despite students, parents and high school counselors urging it to do so.

States across the country have adopted test-optional policies for their universities this year because of the coronavirus pandemic — but Florida has not.

High school seniors must submit an ACT or SAT score as part of their application to a state university.

WUSF's Cathy Carter talked to Eric Hoover, a senior writer of the Chronicle of Higher Education, about the implications.

Eric, fall is typically the time when high school seniors start applying to college. But the requirement here in Florida that students still sit for the ACT or SAT exams in a pandemic must be concerning for both students and parents.

Yes. You have cases raging and a lot of concern about waking up early on a Saturday morning, putting on a mask and going into a classroom. Even a socially distanced classroom is a relatively small space. Taking the SAT or ACT is nerve-racking enough as it is, and what does it mean to do that in a room full of other people like now? I think that's a major worry. Another worry is 'OK, am I going to get my test scores in time?' Students might be worried about being put in the back of the bus without these test scores. That is another layer of worry for a teenager right now.

There has been some reporting that perhaps Florida's popular Bright Futures scholarship could be behind the decision for the state to keep these testing requirements. What have you heard in your reporting?

Yes, I have read that the concern about eligibility for scholarships might in some way explain this. But you know, I don't know exactly what to make of that because a neighboring state, Georgia, faced the exact same question about their scholarship program and test scores being a part of the eligibility consideration. But it and other state systems have found a way around that, to rewrite or suspend the testing part of the scholarship equation. So the question I've heard from many high school counselors in Florida is, "Hey, if other states could find a way to do this, and in a year when the world is upside down, why can’t Florida, with Bright Futures?" And so far, I haven't seen or heard any real explanation to that.

So with Florida being the outlier here, how do you think that's going to affect college admissions in Florida from out-of-state students?

Yeah, well, I mean, that's a great question. I can’t say I've had a conversation about this with admissions officials in Florida, but certainly in other states, prior to those states rescinding their testing requirements, some of the other states were already seeing a downturn in interest and in applications from students in other states. And beyond that, counselors have told me they have competitive concerns and could be at a competitive disadvantage.

Beyond the worries about taking a test during a pandemic, there's also issues of equity because there are a lot less testing centers this year, and some students just don't have access to getting to these centers.

Absolutely that is a concern. That is why even admissions officials, college counselors in many other states, are worried when they look at Florida because the students who are generally speaking already at a disadvantage, who already are maybe behind in this process, are slower to throw themselves into the admissions process, and in this pandemic year they face this additional hurdle for sure.

Many lucky students have mothers and fathers and guardians who can pack them into the minivan and drive them an hour away or five or six hours away. But you know, just the other day, I was talking to a college counselor working with low-income students in an urban area and he was telling me about a student who didn't have anyone to drive him anywhere.

And so, yes, existing inequity exacerbated by this pandemic and the limited availability of seats at testing centers is an ongoing problem. That is why folks throughout the country are looking at Florida and kind of shivering just thinking about students who already have many obstacles and now have to face one more just to take a test.

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