Test Prep in the News: August

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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:


College Board’s August 2018 SAT, a Recycled Exam?

Summary: A number of students have reported on Reddit and other social media sources that Saturday’s SAT in the U.S. was an exam previously used internationally in October 2017. Students who took the exam internationally last fall and flew to the U.S. to take the exam this August report seeing the same questions and passages. Others—who saw leaked copies of the October 2017 exam online before Saturday’s test—also report the exams were the same. College Board, which does not comment on recycled exams and potential leaks, has refused to comment on this specific issue. As Inside Higher Ed points out, if these claims turn out to be true they would be a very serious mark against the SAT given the searing exposé that Reuters ran two years ago about the College Board’s negligent use of compromised exams.

What this means: 

  • We are still waiting for confirmation that the exam was in fact recycled. But students don’t often claim a test was recycled if it wasn’t.
  • It’s very hard to say what the College Board might do if the rumors are true. Worst-case scenario it cancels all scores and makes everyone retake the exam. The logistics and optics of this scenario, thought, are a nightmare, especially with seniors making up a large chunk of the students who took the August test. Instead, the College Board may cancel the scores of students who flew from abroad to the U.S. to take this test, another not-so-palatable option. Or the College Board may limit cancellations to students it has record of having taken the October 2017 test internationally and the most recent test here (a very likely scenario) and those it can clearly pinpoint as having cheated using the exams leaked online (also very likely).
  • Why might the CB have been so reckless? The answer likely lies in the fact that the College Board recently took back the responsibility of writing tests from ETS with the release of the revised SAT.  Test writing is essentially a “newer” game for the College Board, and it’s a complex game, too. It’s very possible the College Board just haven’t been up to the challenge of publishing enough high-quality material to avoid recycling exams. We saw that sloppy writing and possible pressure to push exams out the door may have contributed to the June scoring debacle. If that’s what’s at work here and two test administrations in a row were botched, the SAT is looking at a public relations nightmare.

Was Saturday's SAT Compromised? (Inside Higher Ed)


ACT Sued for Illegally Disclosing Student Disabilities to Colleges

Summary: A group of students is suing ACT, alleging that the test maker illegally disclosed to colleges that these students have learning disabilities. The class-action lawsuit claims that ACT sends test scores to colleges and flags the reports of students who have disabilities. In profile questionnaires during registration and on test day, ACT asks students questions about whether they have a physical or learning disability. The suit claims that these responses are reported to colleges in two ways: 1) on the score reports students send to colleges as part of their applications and 2) through demographic data colleges buy to target specific students for marketing purposes. The students in the suit argued that such flags may have adversely affected their college and job prospects.

What this means: This is a complicated story and requires a bit of unpacking.

  • What colleges see: If you would like to see the score report at the center of this case, visit the ACT’s site for a sample report sent to colleges. On the second page under “Admissions Enrollment Data,” the report indicates if the student answered “Yes” to questions during registration indicating she has a disability.
  • Legality: It does look like these students have a strong case, but it may come down to the law’s interpretation. The practice of flagging accommodated test scores is illegal according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. (For more information on the U.S. Department of Justice’s guidance on flagging, see its Testing Accommodations resource here.) It’s possible that the ACT will argue it did not break the law because the test score itself was not flagged; in other words, the ACT did not overtly flag the test as having been taken with accommodations. Instead, ACT could argue, it only indicated in the students profile that she has a disability.
  • Timing: It’s hard to say how long this has been going on. ACT publicly announced it would no longer flag accommodated test scores starting in fall 2003. We have found evidence that a student’s disability status was reported on college reports as far back as July 2015 (see sample score report on ACT website here). But it’s not clear if ACT started the practice in 2015, or if it’s been going on the entire 15 years ACT publicly claimed it was not flagging scores.

Students With Disabilities Sue ACT Over Release of Personal Information (Education Week)


New Study Shows Underrepresented Students Retake SAT Less Often than Others

Summary: Three researchers who consult for the College Board released a working paper this week, which looked at trends among student who take the SAT more than once. According to the paper, while high-income, white, and Asian students often take the exam multiple times, low-income, Black, and Latino students are more likely to take the exam only once. The data does not explain why the disparity exists but it’s likely due to these students’ lack of college advising (many may not know it’s important or possible to take the exam multiple times). For others it might be that the logistics of taking the exam once are already hard enough or that nearly 40% of these students tend to take their first attempt at the exam in fall of senior year (leaving little time for a retake). The impact of fewer attempts translates to lower scores: the study found that retaking the SAT on average improved a student’s score by 90 points (on a 2400-point scale).  Another interesting finding: “Students scoring just below a round-number threshold were more likely to retake the test.” So a student scoring 1190 is more likely to retake the test than one scoring 1200.

What this means: 

  • Retaking the SAT (and the ACT) is a key strategy for any test prep student. The data bears out just how important it is to plan on taking the exam multiple times.
  • Look for more states to offer the school-day SAT more than once for students. A few states and districts already do, but this new data may convince more to (both to help underrepresented students in college admissions and to make their own districts/schools look better).

A Surprisingly Simple Way to Help Level the Playing Field of College Admissions (New York Times)

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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