My kid just got into Harvard early action. Getting him a seat to take the ACT was a full-time job - my job. He self-studied for it and got a 36 on his one try at a standardized test, but if I hadn’t spent WEEKS battling with the nightmare that the ACT company turned into, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to take the test. Yes, eventually seats became available in September and October in our town, but the ACT never notified us of this - I had to check, day after day, to see if seats had opened up, and reschedule from UTAH to our town in CT. Yes, we would have flown him out to Utah even to get a chance to take the test. Meanwhile, kid’s only job was to study and practice, while I fought the ACT dragon.
There is no way that your average first gen to college kid had the same shot at getting a seat for the ACT in the Northeast. Most schools did schedule an in-school SAT, so most kids who wanted to take the SAT were able to do so. I bet that a lot of schools outside the Northeast did the same thing with the ACT. But money aside (we paid nothing for test prep other than buying a few books, total of under $40 I think), the battle with the ACT was a barrier for anyone who didn’t have a parent fighting to get them registered. So there was no way that schools could go other than test optional - it just wasn’t fair to require them this year. However, I do think that if a student couldn’t submit an SAT or ACT, they should have been required to submit their PSAT, which everyone had taken in the fall of 2019, long before Covid times. A very poor score on the PSAT would have filtered out the kids with high grades from non-competitive high schools.
I do think that the test optional policy opened up the floodgates to students who do well in non-competitive high schools, because they didn’t have to submit a mediocre test score. Just look at the essay in the Boston Globe from a year or two ago, about the fate of the valedictorians from their “regular” high schools. Virtually every one of them, despite having been first in their high school class, was barely even prepared to go to community college.
They mostly wound up dropping out of low-level private schools, often with substantial debt. What became of Boston’s brightest? - The Boston Globe Standardized test scores sort those kids out from the ones who are valedictorians at competitive high schools - and they should be used for that purpose.
I am sure that the reason my kid got into Harvard was his very high-level achievement in music. But I’m also sure that they looked at his ACT score, and realized that he had spent 40-50 hrs/wk on music all throughout high school, and so had mostly A minuses rather than A’s in all honors/AP classes, instead of the usual straight A’s in all highest level classes, that most kids accepted to Harvard have gotten. That 36 told them that he was certainly capable of anything they threw at him at Harvard. I think it helped, for him, to have it. I don’t know if he would have gotten in without it, say, if their policy had been test-blind, instead of test optional. I am hoping that they go back to requiring standardized tests. They should not be the only consideration, but they do give an indication of whether the student has mastered the high school curriculum, and so should be a factor.