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U.S. News Rethinks Rankings Methodology for Testing

U.S. News is changing its rankings methodology to no longer punish colleges where most students don’t submit SAT or ACT scores.

“The magazine likes colleges to have test scores, because they are a common criterion that is easy to compare,” Scott Jaschik, of Inside Higher Ed, says. “But with the pandemic, most colleges went test optional (or test blind, in which test scores are not even viewed).”

Jaschik recently explained what the change means and what critics are saying.


In response to the change in testing policy, U.S. News released the following statement:

“In previous editions, SAT/ACT scores were, in effect, reduced if too few students submitted scores. For this edition, U.S. News discontinued this practice. For schools that reported SAT/ACT scores for less than 50 percent of new entrants in consecutive years, U.S. News did not use those scores to calculate the school’s rank. Instead, U.S. News increased the weights of two other ranking factors: high school class standing and average graduation rate. This change was made due to the pandemic’s effects on testing in 2020, when the supply and demand for taking the SAT/ACT plummeted, particularly among students from low-income backgrounds.” (Most colleges that went test optional remain test optional.)

And while many experts say they are pleased about the latest change, some have criticisms about the rankings—calling it a “garbage in, garbage out exercise.”

“U.S. News was forced to revise its formula to recognize that ACT/SAT-optional and test-blind/score-free policies have become the new normal in higher education admissions,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest: the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, tells Inside Higher Ed. “The latest update, however, does not make the publication’s rankings more accurate or reliable—they remain a garbage in, garbage out exercise in which factor weights are driven by marketing concerns, not a meaningful assessment of an institution’s potential value to applicants. Students, parents, counselors, college leaders, and the news media should ignore this and other examples of the rankings parlor game.”


In July, Columbia University announced that it would not be participating in the U.S. News rankings this year due to problems that a faculty member found around the university’s provided numbers—specifically around class size and faculty with terminal degrees.

“On two of the metrics questioned by our faculty member, class size and faculty with terminal degrees, we determined we had previously relied on outdated and/or incorrect methodologies,” Columbia provost Mary Boyce says.

“The Columbia undergraduate experience is and always has been centered around small classes taught by highly accomplished faculty,” Boyce says. “That fact is unchanged. But anything less than complete accuracy in the data that we report—regardless of the size or the reason—is inconsistent with the standards of excellence to which Columbia holds itself. We deeply regret the deficiencies in our prior reporting and are committed to doing better.”

Sources: Inside Higher Ed, Columbia University

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