Test Prep in the News: March 2017

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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:

An Update on the SAT v. Smarter Balanced in California Debate

Summary: This is the latest update on the fight in California over Smarter Balanced and whether to give it up for SAT/ACT. Long Beach, which failed to convince the state Board of Education to let its school district use SAT for statewide testing, has vowed to take the fight to the legislature. Meanwhile the state Board of Education petitioned the UC system and California State University to accept Smarter Balanced scores in place of SAT/ACT scores for college admissions. But no decision has yet come from those colleges. The article also notes that the SAT and Smarter Balanced have been in talks about collaboration in light of the call for proposals sent out last week.

What this means: California is an influential player in K-12 education. The signs increasingly point to some sort of change in California related to testing—and possibly college admissions.

Turf Battle Developing over Who Can Test California's 11th-Graders (EdSource)
Plus, check out ArborBridge's Guide to 2017 State Testing

Potential Changes to States Requiring ACT/SAT

Summary: Georgia and Florida are the latest states to consider adopting the SAT or ACT for state testing-requirements in high school. In all three, lawmakers and education officials are in the early phases of debates about the move.

What this means: This is a story we've been following for quite awhile and one we'll continue to keep updating as states explore new options. For the latest "test map" of which states require the exams, see ArborBridge’s Guide to 2017 State Testing.

House Committee Passes Legislation to Scale Back Standardized Testing (Sunshine State News)
Georgia Legislature Considers Alternatives to Standardized Tests (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Smarter Balanced May Partner with SAT or ACT

Summary: The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has put out a call for proposals to work with either the ACT or SAT in the coming years. The Consortium is one of two major organizations that oversees the development of standardized tests used by states to fulfill federal testing requirements in the U.S. “The idea is to create a hybrid test that would give students both a Smarter Balanced score and a college-entrance score.” The move comes in the face of two big challenges: resistance to Common Core and states’ embrace of ACT/SAT in place of PARCC and Smarter Balance.

What this means: So far this is just a “public request” put out by Smarter Balanced. The success of such a partnership rests solely on whether the SAT or the ACT bites. The SAT and ACT may see this as a way into a larger market (one of the largest states—California—recently remained strong against calls to abandon Smarter Balanced for the SAT/ACT) or may find it pointless as more and more states simply move whole scale to the SAT/ACT.

Smarter Balanced Looks to Combine Common-Core and College-Entrance Tests (Ed Week)

Harvard Law School Adds GRE as Test Option

Summary: Harvard Law has decided that beginning this fall applicants can submit either LSAT or GRE scores for admissions. The school said that this decision was shaped by data showing the two exams are equally predictive of success in law school and by an attempt to open access (students who might be applying to other types of graduate programs that require GRE only need to pay and study for one exam). This decision makes Harvard and the University of Arizona’s Law School the only ones in the country to accept GRE in place of LSAT. Bloomberg points out that the decision was a financial and numbers one. Law school applications are down nationwide, and the number of LSAT takers is down 35% over the last five years. Meanwhile GRE is up 38% over the last ten years. “India and China, with more than 143,000 test takers between them, were responsible for nearly twice as many GRE takers last year as the rest of the world combined, after excluding the U.S.”

What this means: Harvard is a heavy hitter in the law school world. As one commenter noted, “When Harvard sneezes, everyone gets a cold" in admissions. Now that such a reputable school has made this move, we expect many more to follow. Expect demand for GRE to increase as students opt for the more versatile of the two exams.

In Pilot Program, Harvard Law Will Accept GRE for Admission (Harvard)
Here's Why It Just Got Easier to Apply to Harvard Law (Bloomberg)
Harvard Law School Accepting the GRE Could Lead to Sweeping Changes (NBC)

Khan Academy to Offer LSAT Prep

Summary: The Law School Admissions Council, the organization responsible for overseeing the LSAT, has announced a joint venture with Khan Academy this week to offer free LSAT preparation on Khan’s platform. The move is similar to the recent partnership between Khan Academy and the College Board to offer free SAT preparation materials. Khan’s LSAT program is expected to roll out in late 2018.

What this means: The move towards new, free resources in prep is growing and helping to level the playing field for students, whether test takers use these free resources exclusively or in addition to a paid classes and tutoring.

Salman Khan Is Bringing Free LSAT Prep to the Masses (National Law Journal)
Announcing Free LSAT Prep for All (Khan Academy)

Applications from International Students Drop at Some U.S. Colleges

Summary: In a recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the Institute of International Education, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the College Board, and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling shows a dramatic decline in international applicants to some American colleges. “Nearly 40 percent of responding U.S. institutions are reporting a drop in international student applications, particularly from students in the Middle East, according to initial findings from a survey of 250 schools. Declines are also reported for students from China and India at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.” However, “the survey also found that 35 percent of schools reported an increase in applications from international students, and 26 percent reported no change in applicant numbers.” In particular, the study found that students and parents from the Middle East are concerned about coming to the U.S. for education (nearly 80% of the families expressing concern to recruitment professionals come from Middle Eastern students). This article links these changes to recent shifts in immigration and visa policies under President Trump.

What this means: These are only preliminary findings and may not hold up under deeper data gathering. It will be important in a future analysis to uncover how these trends affect acceptance and enrollment rates. But these findings do indicate how quickly the current political climate can quickly reshape aspects of American higher ed, college counseling, and the test prep industry.

Survey Finds College Applications from International Students Down (U.S. News and World Report)

SAT Will Be Offered in Virgin Islands in June

Summary: In its initial cancelation of the June SAT outside of the U.S., the College Board cancelled the exam in the Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory. After pressure from Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, the College Board has reinstated the test there.

What this means: The U.S. Virgin Islands join Puerto Rico as the only sites offering the SAT in June outside the 50 U.S. states.

College Board Reverses Decision to Cancel June SAT Testing in the Virgin Islands (The Virgin Islands Consortium)

ACT and “Good” College Students

Summary: In this piece from The New York Times, a researcher from the University of Chicago argues that colleges could be using traditional metrics, such as GPA and test scores, in new ways to better predict students who will succeed in college. For example, students who earn better GPAs at the end of their high school careers are more likely to succeed in college than those who do better at the beginning of high school. The author’s research on the ACT found that “the Math and English subject tests are far more predictive of college success than the Reading and Science tests. For example, a student who achieves an ACT composite score of 24 by getting a 26 on the Reading and Science tests and a 22 on the Math and English tests is 10.4 percentage points more likely to drop out of college by the third year than a student who achieved a composite score of 24 in the opposite manner.”

What this means: The finding on GPA’s probably won’t surprise any educator, but the ACT finding is an interesting one and speaks to the ways the test may not fully align with college readiness. Though colleges don’t yet analyze ACT section scores through this lens, it’s possible to imagine a time in the future when they could. As “big data” and systems to analyze this data for surgically targeted applications increases, we could see changes like this in admissions.

How Colleges Can Admit Better Students (New York Times)

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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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