Test Prep in the News: April 2018

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We are committed to providing you with the most up-to-date resources and announcements from the college admissions testing landscape. Here are some of the top headlines from this past month:


Continued Commentary on the SAT and the ACT

Summary: Multiple outlets ran op-eds this week debating the strengths, weaknesses, and future of both the SAT and ACT. U.S. News and World Report, carried a column by a political science professor at Fordham University arguing that “the SAT corrupts nearly every level of the education system,” forcing students to merely learn the tricks for the test and robbing them of time that could be better spent creatively. A second op-ed in the Los Angeles Times written by a representative at The Princeton Review argues that if the state of California dumps PARCC for the SAT/ACT as its state exam, it should also drop the SAT/ACT essay. Such a move will save taxpayers and students money, while also helping to kill off a section of the exam that few colleges require and that has yet to show that it can help predict college success. But, as the writer notes, this will only happen if the UC system (which requires the essay and is largely keeping it alive nationwide) dumps the requirement for admissions. And finally, a set of two articles from Jacobin debate the merits and weaknesses of the SAT from the leftist viewpoint, arguing about the role of race, class, merit, and history in using the test for college admissions.

What this means: 

  • College admissions tests evoke strong reactions from all ends of the spectrum and underscore just how important these exams have become in the process.
  • Out of all the changes mentioned in these articles, the prospect of dropping the essay section is the most intriguing and most likely. If neither ACT nor College Board can show that the essay has any predictive value, it will become harder for both—and the colleges that require them—to continue justifying the section’s existence.

Commentary: Time to Ditch the SAT (USNWR)

California, Kill the SAT and ACT Essay (Los Angeles Times)

The Progressive Case for the SAT (Jacobin)

The Socialist Case Against the SAT (Jacobin)


SAT/ACT and Computer-Based Testing

Summary: As part of its seasonal section devoted to education, The New York Times covered the SAT and ACT’s move to computer-based testing. The article focuses on how U.S. school districts that use the exam for state-mandated test have responded to the change. For ACT, “just 8 percent of roughly one million school-day tests given last year were digital.” For SAT, only 100 schools nationwide will use a digital test this year. School districts have resisted the change because of lack of computers, fears about—and actual instances of—internet/power outages during the exam, and temporarily decreasing scores due to the new testing interface.

What this means: 

  • When researching this article, The New York Times contacted ArborBridge to provide an expert take on the digital transition. We were happy to see that background research and a quote included.
  • We’ve been keeping a very close eye on the transition to the computer-based test and what it means for students. The state and district experts cited in the article seem to share our own concerns about the logistics and experience students face in the first few years of the transition.
  • Just a reminder that in the U.S., computer-based testing for SAT or ACT is only available to those school districts that give the test as part of free, school-day testing. However, all international students will move to the computer-based ACT this fall. International SAT will not be changing.
  • For more on concerns about how transitioning to digital tests can lead to short-term drops in standardized test scores see this article from last week and this study from two years ago.

For the ACT and the SAT, Pencils No Longer Required, but Sometimes Necessary (New York Times)

Here’s What You Need to Know About Online Testing for the ACT and SAT (New York Times)



NACAC Released Study on Test Optional Policies and College Admissions

Summary: A recent study available through NACAC found that test-optional policies result in more underserved students applying to and enrolling in specific schools than at peer institutions that still require test scores. Although the impacts were of either “medium” or “small” impact, there were effects nonetheless. Meanwhile, as a whole, at institutions that went test-optional average GPAs and graduation rates held while average student need for financial aid rose after adopting such policies. Interestingly, the researchers found that “the institutions in our study appeared to treat Non-Submitters [student who chose not to submit test scores] differently than Submitters [those who did], admitting them at a lower rate and, on average, treating them a little less generously in the financial aid process, particularly with merit scholarships. The admitted Non-Submitters, however, enrolled at higher rates at virtually all of our institutions.” The study also found that all schools saw increased number of applicants from all demographics, but only 60% saw increases that outpaced peer institutions that did not have test-optional policies.

What this means: 

  • This new study is a valuable counterpoint to the recent book by a group of College Board-veterans that argued test-optional policies do not result in more diversity (See our previous newsflash from 1/29/18). Though there are important limits to this new study, as acknowledged by the authors, the data point to notable trends in increasing college accessibility even if those trends are not universal at all institutions. A movement worth more research to be sure!
  • The different ways in which universities treated Submitters and Non-Submitters is very interesting and brings up questions about what added lengths (such as course selection, GPA requirements, extracurriculars, etc.) a Non-Submitter might need to go through to even the playing field with Submitters.

Defining Access: How Test-Optional Works (NACAC)

Study: Colleges That Ditch The SAT And ACT Can Enhance Diversity (NPR)

One Way for Colleges to Be Less Elitist: Don’t Fixate on SAT Scores (Marketwatch)

Making the Case for Test Optional (Inside Higher Ed)

Megan Stubbendeck

About Megan Stubbendeck

Dr. Megan Stubbendeck is an eight-year veteran of the test prep industry with ten years of teaching experience. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Virginia where she taught for three years in the History Department. She brings many years of experience as both an Elite Instructor and the Coordinator of Instructor Development at Revolution Prep. As the Senior Director of Instruction at ArborBridge, Megan oversees the curriculum team and their developments.

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