Virginia Tech admissions are unbothered by the lowest reported ACT scores in 31 years and say that there are other application metrics for determining college readiness.
“When you look at standardized testing as a predictor on how students will do once they’re in college as a standalone variable, it’s never been a very strong predictor,” said Juan Espinoza, director of undergraduate admissions at Virginia Tech.
According to the New York Times, ACT test scores for the high school class of 2023 have reached their lowest average since 1991. About 43% of students did not reach any of the subject-matter benchmarks. The average composite score was 19.5 out of 36.
The class of 2023 started high school during the COVID-19 pandemic, experiencing a significant shift to online learning for several months. During this time, there was also a movement among colleges and universities to permit the exclusion of standardized test scores on admission applications. These simultaneous events can be the most significant indicators of the steady dropping in scores nationwide.
Due to Virginia Tech’s increasing interest in non-cognitive attributes, rigor of classes and extracurricular activities within a candidate’s application, the trend of falling test scores is not a concern for their admission offices.
“We do a truly holistic review with a lot of focus outside of the classroom,” Espinoza said. “We do what are called non-cognitive attributes, essentially attributes based on the student’s characteristics or experiences that can be utilized, research shows, at a higher level than testing when being utilized as predictors on how they’re not only gonna do in college, but how they’re gonna do in life. And on the academic side, we pay strong attention to grades, which has been proven to be very good predictor and rigor of courses, so we like to see AP, IB (and/or) dual enrollment classes.”
Virginia Tech became a test-optional application institution in 2021, after the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many incoming students from accessing standardized test aid and services and a decades-long national discourse regarding the inequitable nature of standardized tests.
“The reason we moved to test-optional initially was in response to the pandemic’s cancellation of testing, so it was impossible for most students to get test aid,” Espinoza said. “But there were already conversations happening not just at Virginia Tech but in higher education in general about the role that standardized testing should take.”
Virginia Tech has only been test-optional for three years, so its long-term efficacy has not been determined. However, they are continually evolving their application process year after year to adapt to the circumstances of incoming students.
“I am a firm believer that there is no perfect application review process — it’s ever-changing — and so you always want to kind of make sure that the process you’re using to review students is resulting in positive steps towards progression and graduation,” Espinoza said. “All metrics are looking pretty good for this cohort, and I think that’s a good sign, our retention rate for the most recent group is up one full percentage point from 90 percent to 90.9.”
According to a report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, among 13 public and private institutions, college applicants who did not submit scores graduated in four years at a rate of 79% compared to applicants who did submit scores at 76.4%. Although this study only includes data from a small cohort of institutions within a small time frame, it is undeniable that the influence and weight standardized testing has among colleges and universities is wavering in the light of equity and test availability.