COLORADO — In a matter of weeks, many high school seniors will be making their decision on where they'll attend school after graduation.
The pandemic has made an impact on standardized tests. Test administrators have had to figure out how to conduct exams in a safe manner, and in some cases, tests were canceled due to COVID-19. Which is part of the reason many universities and colleges decided to make standardized tests, such as the ACT and SAT optional for applicants.
"You can see that just melt off their faces in my office they're like- I can still get in?" Christine Braun, a counselor at Sierra High School said. However, the state allows students to use SAT scores to show proficiency in some subjects for graduation. Braun says this is an awkward position for some students to be in.
"We kind of took that stress away for college but it's kind of back for graduation requirements," Braun adds test-optional hasn't necessarily deterred students from applying to schools they otherwise wouldn't have. Instead, students are taking advantage of Harrison School District 2's Dakota Promise program which provides free tuition, books, and fees to Pikes Peak Community College.
While some students are relieved, others have still continued on with standardized tests.
"I also have students that use that [test] to determine their success," Andrea Lucero, a counselor at Rampart High School said. In some cases, the tests provide an added pressure for students.
Colorado students have access to one free SAT during their time in high school. Many schools also offer test prep on campus. However, for some students there are cost barriers in taking tests and getting tutoring for exams.
This is part of the reason state lawmakers are looking to make optional tests permanent in college admissions. The change is something adopted during the pandemic for schools. Supporters say it addresses inequities with higher education.
"I think it's a way of the future," Rep. Tony Exum (D-Colorado Springs) who is sponsoring the bill said. The bill has received support from major universities and colleges in the state.
Some lawmakers are against making it policy arguing there are other barriers for low-income and students of color in education. Instead, those against the bill say there needs to be more done for giving equal access across the board.
Although schools like Colorado College adopted the policy before the pandemic. In 2019, CC implemented the practice. At the time, more students still submitted test scores but this year, it was the opposite.
"Test scores have a lot to do with things that are outside of a student's control," Karen Kristoff, Dean of Admissions at Colorado College said, "Did your parents go to college? What's your socio-economic status? What's your race?"
Kristoff says the college put the policy in place to try and limit those barriers for students.
Whether or not access to tutoring plays a role in which students perform better on the exam is something Phil Hutcherson, owner of SAGE Affordable Tutoring in Colorado Springs says isn't straightforward.
"I think that test-optional is a really complicated situation," Hutcherson said, "it creates more options so that students can tailor what's best for them."
Hutcherson says he's worked with families and school districts over the years to provide help to students who need it on the test.
"If you really want that assistance I think those options exist more than people realize," Hutcherson said.
Ultimately, whether or not it should be a policy is something he says should be left up to the schools.
"What's good for one is not necessarily good for another," Hutcherson said, "every college has a different mission and vision in what they want to accomplish and who they want to serve."
The bill is making its way through the state capitol. Education leaders say whether or not it has an impact on student enrollment and success in college is something that's early to tell.