Megan Menchaca
Austin American-Statesman
The Texas Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education advanced a bill Monday that would require public universities to consider standardized test scores in their admissions processes.
Texas public universities currently are required to automatically admit in-state high school students for undergraduate programs if they are in the top 10% of their graduating class, although the University of Texas has a unique exception allowing it to only automatically admit students in the top 6%.
For the undergraduate students who don’t qualify for automatic admission, public universities can consider a variety of factors, including extracurricular activities, academics, test scores and socioeconomic status, but they are not required to consider any of these factors, according to the Texas Education Code.
Senate Bill 518
, filed by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would mandate that schools consider a student’s scores on standardized tests, such as the ACT or SAT, for admission. The bill, which has been advanced to the Senate Committee on Education, also would require graduate or professional programs to consider standardized tests.
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, several Texas universities, including UT, went test-optional starting with fall 2021 undergraduate admissions, which means that students could submit their SAT and ACT scores for consideration, but they weren’t required to submit them. UT also did not require students to submit scores for fall 2022 or fall 2023 admissions, but the university declined to comment on whether it would continue the practice for fall 2024.
Kolkhorst said several people in Fort Bend County, which she represents, have expressed concern about universities no longer requiring consideration of standardized tests in the admissions process. She said she was surprised that universities had continued to stay test-optional as the COVID-19 pandemic receded.
“We see universities that aren’t (considering test scores), and so many of the people that I represent in Fort Bend County minorities came to me and said, ‘This is important to my children because they are excelling in these and yet it’s not even being considered,’ and so this just says you have to consider it,” Kolkhorst said.
At nearly every public university in Texas, students can submit the scores for consideration in undergraduate admissions, but they are not required to do so. According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, St. Marys University is the only university in Texas that does not consider ACT or SAT scores in undergraduate admissions.
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Many universities nationwide have also gone test-optional or test-blind, meaning test scores are not considered at all, arguing that the tests are unfair to low-income, Black and Hispanic students. The University of California a system with 10 campuses previously automatically admitted some students partially through a “statewide eligibility index” that considered both GPA and test scores, but it now no longer considers standardized test scores in undergraduate admissions.
During the committee meeting, Kolkhorst argued that not requiring consideration of SAT and ACT scores hurts minority students, citing a study from a UC task force that
that 40% of Black UC students and more than 25% of low-income and first-generation students would not have been automatically admitted without test scores being considered.
However, Harrison Keller, the state’s higher education commissioner, said students who are economically disadvantaged or are from high poverty high schools tend to have lower standardized tests scores, and therefore requiring universities to consider exam scores in admission decisions might disadvantage those students.
“Sometimes you see students that have OK grades, and they really performed well on the the standardized tests, and sometimes you see students who have very strong grades and they underperform on the state test,” Keller said. “That’s been the rationale for why our institutions have gone test optional and let the students make that determination.”