Can the Test Prep Industry Weather Covid-19?

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With so many schools shut down or going to hybrid learning models due to the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for private in-person and online tutoring services has soared. As a result, analysts forecast that the private tutoring market will grow by $7.37 billion by 2023. On the other hand, exam and test preparation services are experiencing a much lower demand on account of college entrance exams being postponed or canceled this past spring. The big question facing the test prep industry is whether it can survive the changes being wrought by the worst pandemic the world has experienced in over a hundred years.

Test Optional Admissions Before Coronavirus

Many schools across the country had already veered away from mandatory admissions testing well before the pandemic gripped the country. In fact, there has been a movement to make standardized tests optional for years. Activists claim that removing the ACT and the SAT from the admissions process would spur colleges and universities to evaluate applicants on a much broader range of talents. It would also signal an effort from the country’s more selective institutions to make their campuses reflect the nation’s diversity, a crucial step towards economic and racial equality.

For their part, many university administrators have been willing to make the switch because statistical evidence favors high school GPAs as a more accurate predictor of college success. For instance, Marquette University stopped using test scores after finding they didn’t really correlate with how students would fare in college.

California Leads the Charge

Last year, one of the country’s most prestigious public university systems, the University of California, energized the movement by declaring that standardized tests would be optional for all applicants going forward. Reacting to charges of cultural bias and the infamous Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, the UC system decided it was time for a change. In another sign of the times, a judge ruled at the beginning of September that the University of California could no longer use SAT or ACT tests as admissions criteria because limited access to these tests put students with disabilities at a clear disadvantage. As a result, all UCs had to eliminate standardized test requirements immediately.

Covid Crisis Moves Timetable Forward

Clearly, there has been a groundswell of support in recent years for making the SAT and ACT optional. The coronavirus pandemic, however, sped things up last spring as many college testing dates were either canceled or postponed.

In response, over half of the nation’s colleges and universities temporarily waived test requirements for applicants including the Ivy League, Duke, Stanford and the entire 23-campus California State University system, the country’s largest. In fact, two-thirds of all U.S. colleges and universities are test-optional or test-blind for fall 2021 applicants. Essentially, Covid-19 has settled the many of  the discussions colleges were having about going test optional.

ACT and College Board Won’t Go Quietly

Admissions testing isn’t likely to disappear altogether as test administrators aren’t likely to give up their share of a lucrative market anytime soon. They maintain that test scores along with high school GPAs are a better indicator of student success than GPAs alone. They insist that their tests help even out the playing field for disadvantaged students because grade inflation is more common at high schools in affluent areas.

 Their intense lobbying efforts notwithstanding, the ACT and the College Board may not have the power to withstand a virus that is changing the face of education at all levels. While online tutoring and virtual learning have received major boosts from lockdowns and-at-home orders, the standardized testing industry is reeling from a crisis that has made testing optional for a majority of the nation’s colleges and universities. Long used as a measuring stick to put students on an ostensibly equal playing field, the ACT and the SAT have now been abandoned by many schools in response to a crippling global pandemic. Consequently, the argument that high school grades are a better and more equitable gauge of success in college may have gotten just the push it needed to reduce the role of standardized test scores in the college admissions process.

 

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