Test Prep in the News: July 2016

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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:

Rumor Has It...

Summary: There has been a lot talk lately about the ACT getting "harder." Jed Applerouth recently updated his blog with some thoughtful reflections on the May ACT. He discusses the addition of higher level math—such as vectors and factorials—as well as arguably more complex science content and presentation. Jed concludes that ACT's level of difficulty has clearly increased and that this has significantly risen the bar for students. Fortunately, we've been keeping close tabs on the ACT over the past several years and while we have noticed some changes that align with Applerouth's speculation, these changes have not yet made a significant observed impact on students' scores.

What this means: An increasing number of advanced concepts do in fact appear on the ACT Math test. However, these questions comprise a very small portion of the exam (think fewer than 5 of the 60 questions) and therefore only affect the highest of scorers. Additionally, the Science is not actually that different. Although the ACT did drop one passage (moving from seven to six passages) and replaced some data questions with reasoning questions, most of the Science questions can still be deduced directly from the passage insofar as the student has sufficient understanding of experimental design.

The ArborBridge Instruction team has spent all of June and July reorganizing our modular curriculum to exactly represent the order, content, and level of difficulty ACT students can expect to see on the Math and Science tests. Specifically, we've focused most of our recent ACT Science curriculum roll out on this area, teaching students to read, break down, and understand the parts of a Science experiment.

The ACT Evolves: Harder Science and Math Content with May Update (Applerouth)
Why You Shouldn't Worry Too Much About the Changes to ACT Math and Science (ArborBridge)

ACT Switching International Students to Computer Adaptive Test

Summary: The ACT announced that they will be switching international students to a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) version of the ACT beginning in the Fall of 2017. They claim this move will help protect against the international cheating rings that have been threatening exam fairness. The ACT has not yet released specifics on what the 2017 CAT test will look like or if it will differ structurally from the current CAT ACT available on TestNav.

What this means: There is a possibility that a CAT ACT could curtail a good chunk of the cheating. If the pool of questions that the computer pulls from is diverse enough, for example, to make each student test fairly unique, then cheaters would have a tougher time sharing test content. This could be good news for students who reside in territories that have been affected by the international cheating scandals. However, if the pool of ACT questions and passages is too narrow, cheating could still persist. Hopefully the ACT will build a robust and diverse collection of materials for its CAT ACT exam.

Improving Security for International Testing (ACT)

ACT Rolls Out Test Accessibility and Accommodations System

Summary: Gone are the days of the never-ending paper trail. Now, students with recognized learning differences must use the new Test Accessibility and Accommodations (TAA) system to submit requests for ACT accommodations. Under the new system, students will indicate a learning difference during registration. They will then receive an email from the ACT. Finally, they will follow the instructions in the email to forward the email along to their approved school official who will send all needed documentation to the ACT on the student's behalf.

What this means: Overall, we're thinking this system is going to be far preferable to the old. If anything, it will be faster. Schools can seamlessly send and receive documents on behalf of students and no one has to wait on the mail. Unfortunately, this ease of access doesn't include everyone. Students who are homeschooled, not in school, or are not affiliated with a school will need to contact the ACT to make special arrangements. Look for these students to reach out to independent college counselors for help.

Services for Examinees with Disabilities (ACT)
Understanding the ACT Test Accessibility and Accommodations System (ArborBridge)

Reuters on the Prowl...Again

Summary: Beginning in March, Reuters has been in hot pursuit of any and all test prep cheating scandals. This week, they released yet another installment of their Reuters Investigates test prep industry series. To date, that makes 4 juicy cheating scandal stories. Here's a quick recap from Part 1 (released in March 2016) to Part 4 (released July).

Part 1: The SAT is reusing tests. This is a huge security hold that is being exploited, especially in South Asia and China. It's a big deal; College Board knew, and they've been covering it up for a while. More here.

Part 2: Tests are being leaked immediately after they're given, even tests that are not intended to be released. In May 2013, the test got out early and the SAT was subsequently canceled in South Korea. Despite being outed, the SAT continued to use leaked tests. This raises doubts about score validity.

Part 3: The University of Iowa investigates over 50 Chinese nationals for cheating. These students hired "ringers" to take exams, write essays, and complete online coursework. The cheating goes as far as forging letters of recommendation, ghostwriting essays, and falsifying transcripts to assist in college applications.

Part 4: The newest investigation alleges that a company called the Global Assessment Certificate program (billed as an English-language and test prep course headquartered in Hong Kong) is providing students with copies of the ACT or ACT questions before the test. It is one of a few companies that function out of mainland China. The kicker? GAC is owned by the ACT.

What this means: With all of the recent anti-cheating efforts made by both the College Board and ACT, it's clear that cheating is no longer something the SAT or ACT can afford to just sweep under the rug. In order to protect their virtual monopoly over the college admissions market and preserve the integrity of their exams, we expect both the SAT and ACT to invest in resources that will allow them to offer more diverse and unpredictable tests to students. Take, for example, the ACT's move to CAT. If it's successful, expect more CATs and fewer paper tests in subsequent years.

Barnard Drops Subject Test and Writing Requirement

Summary: On June 13th, we reported that Columbia University joined University of Pennsylvania by dropping its SAT Subject Test and SAT/ACT Essay requirements. Now it looks like Columbia's sister school, Barnard College, is jumping on the bandwagon. Beginning in the fall of 2017, Barnard College will no longer require SAT/ACT Essay scores or Subject Test scores. However, students who are submitting SAT scores from the previous version of the test will still need to submit the entire score, including the Essay component. Though Subject Test and Essay scores will no longer be required, Barnard will still consider them if submitted.

What this means: Fewer than 15% of colleges still require an SAT/ACT Essay score. Of those colleges, many acknowledge that the Essay score is the least predictive component of the exam. We've seen the ups and downs of a very turbulent test section as both the College Board and ACT make scoring change after scoring change in an attempt to lend greater predictive power to the exam. Now it would appear many colleges are starting to realize that a student's ability to write at a college-level is difficult if not impossible to assess through a standardized exam.

Barnard Drops Standardized Writing and SAT Subject Test Requirements (Columbia Spectator)

University of Chicago Will Let Applicants Self-Report Test Scores

Summary: According to Inside Higher Ed, the University of Chicago will now allow students to self-report SAT and ACT scores. Because the fees for SAT and ACT only cover four score reports to colleges, this new policy should help students with limited resources broaden the number of colleges they can apply to. Of course, once students are admitted, they will still need to provide the University with an official score report.

What this means: No big takeaways here. Just a change we wanted you to be aware of. Arguably, this change may slightly increase the pool of applicants to the University of Chicago. But again the effect would be marginal at best.

University of Chicago Will Let Applicants Self-Report Test Scores (Inside Higher Ed)

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About Jodie Westerman

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