Giselle Mendoza

Dr. Thomas McNamara
College Writing 2

"Effects of Test Optional On Low Income Students"

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic that occurred in March of 2020, many universities switched to test optional during the 20-21 school year. According to Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, "Pre-pandemic there were 1,070 schools that were test-optional – one of whom was test-blind. Now there are 1,686, including 68 that are test-blind for fall 2021.” Test optional gives students the choice whether or not to submit their SAT scores to colleges they apply to. Many low-income students who take the SAT do not do well, the reason being is they do not have the proper resources to be successful on the test compared to wealthy students. According to an article by The Conversation,“The reason (why standardized tests favor students from wealthier backgrounds) is that more affluent families can afford to purchase pricey prep materials and hire coaches. Meanwhile, minority students more often attend schools in high-poverty areas and are more than two times as likely to have lower standardized scores.” With that being said, the purpose of my research is to identify if there was a change in the number of low- income students who enrolled in Lewis due to the new test optional policies put in place during the 20-21 school year.

In July of 2020, Lewis University announced that they would adopt a test-optional admission policy for incoming freshmen applying for Fall 2021 as a result of “significant disruptions” caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement regarding the new policy, the university said they acknowledge that “test scores often do not portray the full ability and potential for academic success.” With that being said, Lewis University decided to improve their admissions process to include other factors that demonstrate a person's true abilities and their academic performances. These factors include: high school course selection, grade trends, cumulative and core grade point average in addition to personal achievements and community involvement. Data from the 2021-22 school year is not available, so when conducting my research I looked at data from the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years. The data from the Lewis University Office of Institutional Research and Planning showed that 66% of first-time, first-year (freshman) students that enrolled in Fall 2019 submitted their SAT scores. In Fall of 2020 the percentage of first time, first-year (freshman) students that submitted SAT scores increased to 73%. To determine if there was a change in enrollment of low-income students at Lewis, I decided to look at the number of Pell grant recipients. According to the 2019 IPEDS report, the percentage of students who were awarded Pell grants was 33% and in 2020 the percentage was 35%.

The reason many universities went test optional during the Covid-19 pandemic was to give more students the opportunity to apply to schools without having to worry about their SAT scores. According to Ivy Lounge, a SAT prep website, “The whole point of colleges opting to go “test optional” is that they want to allow more students to apply without an extra hurdle.” Many test centers were closed or tests were canceled due to the pandemic and as a result, universities went test optional as a way of relieving stress and giving students a chance to go to college, even if they had a bad test score. Before test optional was adopted into the admissions process for many universities, students were required to submit SAT scores. Low-income students worried about submitting their SAT scores because they were not good. The reason being is that low-income students are at a disadvantage when it comes to the SAT. Data collected from College Board, which is the organization that is in charge of the SAT, demonstrates that SAT scores correlate with income.

The data from the chart shows that students whose families make less than $20,000 a year averaged a combined score of 1,326 compared to 1,714 points for students from families making more than $200,000 a year. Many low-income students do not have a fair chance at being successful on the SAT compared to students who are wealthy for a number of reasons. One being that if they attend a school that is not well funded, it results in them not having the sufficient resources for them to prepare for standardized tests. According to the Manhattan Review, a test preparation company that offers SAT prep consulting, “Subsequent test attempts can result in higher scores if students acquire improved test-taking ability and familiarity with the test.” Retaking the SAT more than once will most likely increase your score but the cost of taking it is another problem for low-income students as they don’t have the funds to retake it more than once. According to College Board, for the 2021-2022 school year, the SAT costs $55.00. Many low- income students cannot afford to retake the test with it being expensive which means they only have one chance at getting a good score.

Test optional seemed like it would increase the number of low-income students attending universities because they then would not have to worry about being rejected due to their SAT score. This has been determined to not be accurate. Studies have shown that the number of low- income students attending universities has not increased. According to a study done on “the relationship between test-optional policy implementation and subsequent growth in the proportion of low-income and minority students enrolling at adopting liberal arts colleges” by Sage Journals, it states, “Our findings suggest that test-optional admissions policies, as a whole, have done little to meet their manifest goals of expanding educational opportunity for low-income and minority students.” Test optional does very little to increase admission of low-income students if it is not followed by changes in the way financial aid is given. According to Kelly Ochs Rosinger, an assistant professor of education at Pennsylvania State University who has studied test-optional admissions, “Without more investment in recruiting, financial aid, advising and mentoring for low-income, first-generation, Black and Hispanic students, test-optional or even test-blind admissions policies will amount to little more than ‘window dressing’.”

When looking for a research participant I searched for a student who was a Pell grant recipient among any other financial aid they receive. The participant I selected to interview for my project was Bella, a freshman at Lewis who receives a few types of financial aid. Bella attended Joliet Central High School, a public school located on the East side of Joliet. When Bella applied to colleges, she applied to schools she believed she would not have been able to get into if they were not test optional. She did this because her SAT score did not meet the criteria for these colleges, but with the SAT requirement not in place anymore, she wanted to see if she had a chance in getting accepted into these schools. Other than a research participant, I looked at various longform and scholarly articles as well as data from Lewis University’s IPEDS reports and data from the Lewis University Office of Institutional Research and Planning.

According to data from the Lewis University Office of Institutional Research and Planning, 66% of students submitted their SAT scores in Fall 2019. The percentage increased by 7% in Fall of 2020 to 73%.

Since this data is from before test optional was put in place, it is possible that the number of SAT submissions will increase for the 2020-2021 academic year as it has been doing for the past two years, but it is also possible that the number of SAT submissions to decrease due to test optional being implemented for the Fall academic year of 2021. Without the data from the 2020-2021 academic year it cannot be determined whether SAT submissions increased or decreased due to the lack of data available. Looking at the IPEDS reports for Lewis, the percentage of students who were awarded Pell grants in 2019 was 33% and in 2020 the percentage increased by 2% to 35%.

There was only a 2% increase in Pell grant recipients between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic year. With the low percentage, it can be inferred that there might not have been a significant increase of Pell grant recipients for the 2021-2022 academic year. This would signify that the number of low-income students did not increase with test optional being implemented, or it could be the opposite with an increase of Pell grant recipients, but again it cannot be determined for sure due to the lack of data for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Without data of the percentages of Pell grant recipients and SAT submissions from the 2021-2022 academic year, I had to look at other factors to determine if there was an increase in low-income students. I started with interviewing Bella, who is a Freshman at Lewis. Bella is a Pell grant who receives a number of other financial aid. When asked about the other types of aid she receives she replied, “I receive the MAP grant, LU President’s Excellence Award, Hispanic Latino Coalition of Joliet scholarship, Future Educators of Joliet scholarship, and the HEERF grant.” Upon hearing the different kinds of aid Bella needs in order to attend school, I asked a follow up question on how her education would be impacted if her scholarships/financial aid levels changed. Her response was, “I think that if I didn’t receive at least what the school gives me I probably wouldn’t have attended college straight out of high school, or would’ve had to ask my parents to financially support me.” Bella relies heavily on financial aid to get through college and if it were not for the amount of financial aid Lewis gave her, she would not have attended this university or any until she could afford it. When asked if her high school prepared her for the SAT, she stated she used “Khan Academy SAT prep program in my English classes, which was also linked to the college board. They had incentive programs depending on how many hours you studied.” Although her high school provided some kind of resources to prepare for the SAT, she discussed how the first set of SATs that she was supposed to complete in her junior year of high school were canceled due to the pandemic. During her senior year, she was told the SAT would no longer be required. Yet, a week later she received an email that said that the SATs were scheduled and she had to take the test in order to graduate due to a law in the state of IL. This was a big deal for Bella as she had to take the test so sudden. She stated “I do think that the pandemic messed everything up and them (her high school) making us take the SATs within a week of an email was kind of messed up with no warning.” Due to Bella taking the SAT so suddenly, she believed she did not do her best. She stated “I didn’t do well on the SAT, which was expected and many of my peers feel like they also didn’t do as well as they could.” Bella did practice for the SAT, but when it got canceled her junior year of high school she stopped preparing for it, and when it was announced she had to take it in her senior year, she “kind of just gave up since many schools went test optional anyways.” The pandemic affected Bella significantly when taking the SAT and without the implementation of test optional, she would not have been accepted to many colleges since her SAT score did not meet the criteria for some universities. Although Lewis was test optional, Bella did submit her SAT score when applying, she could not remember the exact reason for submitting her score but when applying to other colleges she applied to ones that were more difficult to get into just to see what her chances were. Although she did not do well on the SAT and still submitted her score, she was accepted into Lewis. But she was close to not attending as she stated, “Lewis was definitely not my first pick but after family issues a week before decision day I came to Lewis to ask for more money to attend the school and they gave it to me so I stayed.” Without the extra help in aid Lewis offered, Bella may have not attended this school.

During the pandemic, Lewis implemented the Coronavirus aid, relief and economic security (CARES) act. This is a higher education emergency relief fund (HEERF) that went into effect on October 30, 2020. According to the Lewis University website, “The CARES provides emergency assistance in the form of cash grants to students for expenses related to the disruption of their education due to the COVID-19 outbreak.” HEERF funds have been given to Lewis’s “neediest students.” In spring of 2020, the amount of HEERF funds a student received was determined by if they were residents, commuters, undergraduates or graduates. Those who were residents and were undergraduates/graduates received $1,000 while those who were commuters and were undergraduates/graduates received $300. A total of 2,972 undergraduate students and 737 graduate students received a HEERF Grant as of May 23, 2020. In 2021 a total of 1,991 students received a HEERF II Grant of $1,000. Those who were eligible were 1,751 undergraduate students and 240 graduate students. In Spring of 2022 Lewis University estimated that 6,169 students may be eligible to receive funding with each student receiving an award of $1,250 under the HEERF III Grant. Lewis took into consideration the effects the pandemic had on its students, by creating the HEERF fund, they were able to help their students financially. Those students were able to spend the money they received on books and supplies, any miscellaneous item they would need like sanitizer, wipes and face masks, and even transportation. These items were what Lewis took into consideration when deciding how much money students would receive.

After conducting my research and interview, it cannot be determined whether there is a change in the number of low-income students who enrolled in Lewis due to the new test optional policies put in place during the 2020-2021 school year. The reason being, without available data of Pell grant recipients and SAT submissions from the 21-22 academic year, it is not possible to compare to the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years. If the 2020-2021 school academic year were available, I would then be able to identify if there was a change in the number of Pell grant recipients and SAT submissions. Based on the available information I did gather, I do infer that the number of SAT submissions decreased while the number of Pell grant recipients increased at Lewis. I base this on the fact that the participant for my interview, Bella, received more financial aid when she asked Lewis for help. This demonstrates that Lewis is willing to help low-income students attend by offering more financial aid and Covid relief funds. Bella also discussed the effects Covid had on her when taking the SAT. She suffered a low score as a result of it and therefore I believe other students like her also suffered and did not submit their SAT scores when applying to Lewis, decreasing the number of SAT submissions as more low-income students applied.

Works Cited

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Farmer, Angela, and Jonathan Wai. “Many colleges have gone test-optional – here's how that could change the way students are admitted.” The Conversation, 21 September 2020, -change-the-way-students-are-admitted-144998
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“Financial Aid | American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (HEERF III).” Lewis University,
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“Financial Aid | Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.” Lewis University,
Accessed 28 April 2022.

“Financial Aid | Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSAA).” Lewis University,
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Moody, Josh. “How the Coronavirus Is Pushing Colleges to Go Test-Optional.”, 20 December 2020, -colleges-to-go-test-optional
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Semos, Kristina. “Does "test optional" REALLY mean test optional? (Or: can you just skip the SAT or ACT?) — IVY Lounge Test Prep.” Ivy Lounge Test Prep, 2 June 2020,
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Simon, Cecilia Capuzzi. “The Test-Optional Surge.” The New York Times, 28 October 2015,
Accessed 27 April 2022.

Tugend, Alina. “Advocates hope higher ed shift from standardized tests will aid diversity, but it's no cure-all.” PBS, 27 January 2021, ed-tests-will-aid-diversity-but-its-no-cure-all
Accessed 27 April 2022.

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