State university admissions go test-optional to increase enrollment and diversity


Daily file illustration by Cynthia Zhang

As recently enacted by state law, Illinois public universities will have test-optional admissions.

Elena Hubert, Reporter

Illinois public universities will use test-optional admissions as of Jan. 1, a change enacted by the Higher Education Fair Admissions Act. 

Illinois follows several states and university systems in the nationwide trend toward test-optional admissions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rep. Nicholas Smith (D-Chicago) said legislators hope the change will reverse declining enrollment and increase diversity at public universities.

“Our motivation as legislators is to increase enrollment in public universities and keep more Illinois students in the state to complete their education, get employed and contribute to society,” Smith said in an email.

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus supported this act as part of a push to dismantle systemic racism in Illinois. Smith said they focused on research findings about standardized testing and people of color.

A 2020 study by the Brookings Institution found Black and Hispanic or Latinx students scored significantly lower on the SAT math section than white and Asian students. The study called the findings “a likely result of generations of exclusionary housing, education, and economic policy.”

Test-optional admissions open up collegiate options for students discouraged by lower test scores, according to Beth Arey, Evanston Township High School’s College and Career Coordinator.

“(College counselors) want to make sure (students) know they have options,” Arey said. “A lot of times the hang up or the barrier that students face related to their post-high school planning is the belief that you don’t have options.”

ETHS junior Ahania Soni plans to take both the ACT and the state-required SAT. She plans to apply without test scores to schools like the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign if she does not reach her target score.

However, Soni has doubts about how universities process applications without scores. She said many of her peers think colleges assume students did poorly on tests if they don’t submit scores.

“What I’ve heard about a lot of them, especially the schools that are a lot more selective, is that they claim to be test optional,” Soni said. “But in reality, if you don’t submit a test score, they’re just gonna think you did badly on it.”

Soni has doubts that colleges will not penalize applicants without scores, but she said the new law is a “step in the right direction” away from standardized testing. She disapproves of the current form of standardizing testing, citing its discrimination against historically marginalized populations.

“A huge thing with testing is the discrimination it has against people of color, people who English isn’t their first language, people who come from different schools, different types of education, different countries, all those kinds of things,” Soni said. “(It) really impact(s) the way you’re going to do on a score.”

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Twitter: @elenahubert25

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