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SAT Scores, Test-Takers Tick Down Amid COVID-19 Closures

Widespread and ongoing closures in the wake of the coronavius pandemic played havoc with college admissions tests this spring and summer, with both the average performance and participation declining, according to the annual report of the College Board, which administers the test.

Just under 2.2 million students took the SAT in 2020, about 22,000 students fewer than last year, and the number of students participating in the essay portion of the test fell from 64 percent to 57 percent. The average scores for the 2020 test also dropped, from 528 to 523 in math and from 531 to 528 in English/language arts.

Pricilla Rodriguez, College Board's vice president of college readiness assessments, credited the relative stability of the test this year to an increase in participation in the in-school testing program last fall. Nearly 1.1 million students, or nearly half of the class of 2020, took the SAT on a school day, up by more than 100,000 students from the class of 2019. But students who had not taken college admissions tests in fall found their options for the SAT severely limited, as outbreaks and stay-home orders forced the cancellation of both testing dates and later make-up test attempts. As recently as last month, nearly half of students signed up to take the SAT were unable to do so because local testing sites had to cut back on seating to keep social distancing.

Moreover, even in the midst of the pandemic's economic crash, the number of low-income students whose test fees were waived fell from 427,442 in 2019 to 376,468 in 2020.

In the meantime, so-called "test optional" college admissions have been gaining ground among colleges and universities, with more than half of institutions with four-year degree programs either making the SAT and ACT optional or putting score acceptance on hold for the class of 2020. And the College Board itself urged colleges to "equally consider" students who applied without being able to take the SAT this year. But it's not clear whether those options will remain in place for the class of 2021 and beyond.