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SAT test prep books. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Image

Harvard University announced on Thursday that it will not require SAT or ACT scores for admission through the next four years.

Why it matters: The shift adds more momentum to the move in higher education away from using standardized test scores as a major bar for admission, partially in the name of improving equity.

Driving the news: Harvard's decision extends a policy adopted during the pandemic because coronavirus outbreaks were making it difficult at times for students to access testing sites.

  • But it also signals that the university believes it can assess tens of thousands of applicants by looking at "whatever materials they believe would convey their accomplishments in secondary school and their promise for the future," according to Harvard dean of admissions and financial aid William Fitzsimmons.

The big picture: Harvard is only the latest in a series of U.S. colleges and universities to end the use of standardized test scores for applications or to make the tests optional. Other schools include the University of Chicago and the entire University of California system.

  • By the numbers: The percentage of schools that do not require standardized tests rose from about 45% before the pandemic to nearly 80% now, according to the anti-testing group FairTest.

Between the lines: Supporters of the anti-testing movement argue the SAT and other tests are biased in favor of affluent, white and Asian American students, and they can too easily be gamed by applicants who can afford expensive private tutors.

  • The other side: Proponents of keeping the tests say scores are often a better predictor of college performance than high school grades and that putting more emphasis on extracurriculars and essays might tilt the playing field even more heavily toward rich applicants.

The bottom line: The SAT and other standardized tests were key building blocks of the construction of the postwar American meritocracy, but as the belief in the fairness of that system has declined, the big tests may follow.

Go deeper

Jan 6, 2022 - Health

Rapid nasal COVID tests feared to be returning false negatives

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

There appears to be yet another layer to America's coronavirus testing chaos: People may not test positive on rapid nasal tests until after they're infectious, which would make the tests an unreliable measure of whether it's safe to gather.

The big picture: Rapid tests have been hailed as a way to weather the Omicron surge without mass disruption to everyday life. But they've been in short supply for weeks, and now new research — along with loads of anecdotal evidence — suggests there may be significant limitations to their usefulness with this variant.

Jan 10, 2022 - Health

Insurers to cover costs for at-home COVID tests starting Saturday

COVID-19 rapid at-home test kits rest on a table at a free distribution event for those who received vaccination shots or booster shots on Jan. 7 in Los Angeles. Photo: Mario Tama via Getty Images

Health insurers will be required to cover costs for over-the-counter, at-home COVID tests starting this Saturday, the Health and Human Services Department announced Monday.

Why it matters: Under President Biden's strategy to expand access to free COVID testing, insurers will either cover costs upfront or reimburse people after they submit claims.

You can start ordering free COVID tests Wednesday

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The White House said Friday a new website, COVIDTests.gov, will begin accepting orders Jan. 19 for free rapid tests shipped to Americans' homes.

Why it matters: The White House emphasized the importance of testing during the Omicron surge, with President Biden on Thursday announcing plans for the government to have 1 billion tests.

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