The College Board announced today (January 19, 2021) that effective immediately, the SAT subject tests will be discontinued for students in the U.S. and they will be phased out for international students this summer after the May, June test dates.
This decision is the culmination of the slow and steady erosion of the subject tests, exacerbated by the pandemic and test center closures over the course of the last year. Even prior to the pandemic top universities including MIT, CalTech, and Yale had made decisions to no longer even consider these scores in their admissions processes.
The reaction from students, as you might expect, has been highly enthusiastic. Within minutes of the College Board’s announcement, Top Tier students were sending us links to the national news story.
DOUBLE-DOWN ON AP EXAMS
In light of this dramatic announcement, we encourage our students to recommit to your study plan for your upcoming AP exams, (along with your SAT and ACT work and grades). This change will lead admissions officers to put even more emphasis on results of AP exams in upcoming admissions cycles. We also believe that post-pandemic, you’ll see top colleges and universities reinstating the required SAT or ACT for the next admissions season. So, sophomores shouldn’t throw out their subject test books quite yet.
Did you miss the sign up for AP exams? The late registration for exams is March 12th, so get on that now. Remember that you don’t have to take an AP course to sign up for the exam and you can self-study for these exams. We know that some high schools discourage their students from signing up for AP exams but this change in the SAT subject test policy may lead them to reconsider their position. Lobby for yourself!
COURSES FOR CREDIT
We also know that many of you were counting on high subject test scores to help you stand out in the crowded college admissions landscape. Without subject tests available, another way you can boost your candidacy includes taking college courses for credit. Earning strong grades in these courses illustrates your readiness for college work and is yet another data point in your evaluation. Especially if you will be applying to colleges without a robust slate of AP tests, college courses are crucial to help you stand out.
Beyond just your grades and scores, colleges are increasingly inspired by students who engage with important issues and who advocate for others. Carve out a space for yourself as a leader and find creative ways to take a stand on issues that are important to you. Civic engagement is key!
So, recycle those subject test prep books if you are a junior and then get to work! We are here to help you make sense of it all.
You’d think that after a spate of SAT and ACT cancellations because of COVID-19, the College Board and the ACT would pull out all the stops to ensure that high school students – especially current juniors – would face no obstacles in rescheduling their exams for July, August, September, and October.
You’d think leaders of these two mammoth companies, keenly aware of the numbers of colleges and universities waiving testing for students applying to college this fall, would do everything in their power to avoid losing even more market share at a pivotal time.
Instead? Turmoil and greater uncertainty for juniors who did not complete their admissions testing before May (i.e. most of them).
COLLEGE BOARD: SAT TEST CENTER CANCELLATIONS & TECHNICAL WOES
Last week, the College Board attempted to reopen registration for students who registered for spring 2020 testing and who have no SAT scores. A crush of students and families – clearly the result of pent-up demand among anxious juniors and their parents – tried to register but were met with technical failures. We were hearing from our students one after another that they were sitting at their computers for hours and could not log on. This comes on top of the glitches with the online AP exams that resulted in thousands of students not being able to submit their exams and having to take the exams again in June.
Today, the College Board announced that it is canceling plans for an online, in-home SAT. As noted in the Washington Post, an estimated 1 million high school juniors this spring who do not have an SAT score were blocked from taking the test because of testing-center cancellations. They form a large share of college-bound seniors in the Class of 2021. The College Board hopes to expand capacity in the fall, but how much that will offset this spring’s testing turmoil remains unknown.
ACT: FEWER TEST CENTERS OPEN
Meanwhile, over at the ACT, a change in CEO ensued and the organization sought to cut its costs by having fewer test centers open this June and July. Fewer test centers – and more social distancing in those that do open – means that students will face uneven access to the ACT this summer.
The ACT is prioritizing Class of 2020 seniors who need the ACT for scholarship applications and admissions decisions and juniors in the Class of 2021. According to the head of a test prep service, only 33% of testing centers are scheduled to open in June and July. As Jed Applerouth noted to Inside Higher Ed, “Students will be disproportionately affected across the country. No students in Massachusetts will be able to sit for a June ACT. In Wisconsin, a single test center of the 107 scheduled will be open. In New York, the state hardest hit by the pandemic, a mere 15 of their 203 sites are open,” he wrote. “States with fewer than 10 percent of sites open include New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wisconsin.”
Have we reached a tipping point? Today, over 1,200 four-year colleges and universities either do not require the SAT/ACT or have waived the requirement for the Class of 2021. We predict that more colleges and universities will move to test optional policies for the Class of 2021 because of the extraordinary stress and uncertainty many now face.
So, should juniors try to take the exams? If you are planning to apply under an early decision or early action program and were able to secure a seat for June, July, August, September or October, then yes. Use time this summer to prepare and do you very best on the exams. You’ll get the results of these exams before the vast majority of early deadlines. Even schools who’ve waived testing for this year will still take note of strong scores on your admissions application and they will strengthen your application.
In a news release on October 8, 2019, the ACT announced several key changes that will take effect next September, including:
Students will have the option to retake specific sections of the ACT, in addition to sitting for the entire exam.
The ACT will now enable students to send an official report that includes a “superscore.”
Students will have expanded options for online testing on national test days and test score results from online exams will be available in two days, rather than the current two weeks.
So, setting aside any cynicism about for-profit companies trying to get more market share and grow their bottom line, this added flexibility will help you make smart decisions about your testing strategy.
After taking your first ACT, typically in the early fall of your junior year, you’ll then have the ability to retake only those specific sections where you need to improve your score. Your prep strategy will now be to zoom in on one or two sections, versus spending additional hours to make sure that your scores on the other sections don’t drop.
Rather than using precious hours during the all-important junior year on test prep, you’ll be able to devote more time to your courses, deepening your academic niche, and contributing to your school and community in meaningful ways. Yes, testing is still a factor at top colleges but once you have the scores to be in range, it’s the quality of your achievements and contributions that matter more.
Talk to any current senior or their parents today and they’ll share the hopelessly confusing and non-standardized score policies. Which schools superscore? Are colleges that say they only look at your best scores really being honest about that? Which schools allow score choice? What are the different variations of score choice across schools?
The decision by the ACT to allow students to send official reports that include a superscore helps simplify the reporting process for students. Let’s hope that all colleges and universities will now accept this streamlined reporting process and cut down on the confusion that students and parents now have to contend with.
We’re pleased with the expanded online testing options on national test days, especially because of the faster turnaround time for results. With results available more quickly, students can get a jump on any sections that need further work and get those retakes done in a more timely manner. They can also submit scores to schools in time for early deadlines.
It’s likely that this set of policy changes by the ACT will lead to a counter-set of policy changes by the SAT. We wouldn’t be surprised if the opportunity to retake specific sections of the SAT is announced later this spring, along with online testing and faster score turnaround times.
It’s also likely that this latest round of testing changes leads more schools to move to test-optional or no-test admissions policies. If students can take the “pitch ‘til you win” approach with testing, then you’ll end up with lots of students who, one section at a time, build the foundation for a 36 or a 1600. Testing, then, becomes even less of a differentiator if everyone’s scores fall within a narrower and narrower band.
We’ll keep an eye out for further announcements but in the meantime, our bottom line is this: An officially reported superscore, along with the flexibility to retake individual sections and faster results, will minimize the time and money students spend on testing.
Today’s breaking news is that the College Board (yes, the same people who bring you the SAT, SAT subject tests and AP exams) now plans to assign an adversity score to every student who takes the SAT. Fifty schools used the score last year as part of a beta test and the College Board says 150 schools will use it in the coming academic year. By the 2020-21 academic year, the College Board anticipates broad adaptation of this new metric.
This news raises many questions. What exactly is the adversity score? How will it be calculated? What factors are considered and how are they weighted? Why is the College Board doing this? How will it be used in admissions decision making?
WHAT IS THE ADVERSITY SCORE?
The stated goal of the adversity score is to gain a better understanding of relative poverty, wealth and opportunity by using the contextual factors—neighborhood, family, and high school—that have been shown to impact a student’s SAT score. There are numerous studies that look at SAT score distributions by household income, parents’ educational attainment, and racial/ethnic background, and disparities are evident. Here are recently published data from the College Board that illustrate the disparities in average SAT score when broken down by these factors:
DOES THE ADVERSITY SCORE HELP ADMISSIONS OFFICERS MAKE BETTER DECISIONS?
The adversity score will be reported as a number derived from several inputs that are grouped into three categories: a student’s family environment, neighborhood environment, and high school environment. Looking closely at these data points, College Board officials believe, will allow admissions officers to better understand the contextual and environmental factors of their applicants.
Much of this is already baked into how selective college admissions work, especially those contextual factors that have to do with a student’s family and school. The adversity score will include biographic and demographic factors that are easily discernible from an admissions application – single parent household, education level of parents, and English as a second language, for instance. Data on the high school environment —curricular rigor, percentage of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, and AP offerings are easy to discern from the school’s official high school profile or website. It is interesting to note that the College Board includes AP opportunity as part of its adversity index. Does this mean that students at high-performing high schools who have decided to eschew the AP in favor of their own courses will see their adversity score tick up?
Neighborhood environment data—crime rate, poverty rate, housing value, vacancy rate— are not something that admissions officers typically see as they read applications, but our guess is that the most highly selective schools have a well-developed sense of this already, based on extensive outreach efforts over the past decades and school visits made by admissions officers to inner-city high schools across the country.
WHY WAS THIS DEVELOPED?
The real question is, why is the College Board doing this? The College Board notes that admissions officers have asked for a tool like this to help them as they work to increase the socioeconomic and racial/ethnic composition of their student bodies. To many, the prospect of the Supreme Court disallowing race-based affirmative action is a real one. The use of other socioeconomic contextual factors— already a key part of the holistic admissions review process at top colleges—is seen as a way to mitigate the impact of a reversal by the Court. But again, much of this is already evident from the students’ applications.
As applicant pools balloon each year, it’s pretty obvious that the ability to conduct a thoughtful, holistic review is a nice aspirational statement for a college’s website but far from the reality. Applicants are reduced to data points that are fed into an enrollment algorithm and out pops the ideal composition of the admit group. Do we want the process to be even more formulaic? Should admissions officers be predisposed to prefer an application based solely on their adversity score? Would this lead to students from more affluent backgrounds being discriminated against solely because of their zip codes? Why bother with asking for essays and supplements when enrollment management software churns out the right mix of admits? As the recent cheating scandal showed us, there are no guarantees that students and parents will not misrepresent themselves in the admissions process. It would be relatively easy to underreport family income, for instance. There is no effective check for honesty and little motivation for students to be accurate or provide information that will be used against them. Finally, what about students at boarding schools? How will colleges distinguish between scholarship recipients and full-pay students?
It’s hard not to wonder what else might be behind the College Board’s actions. The inclusion of “AP opportunity” seems like an overt ploy to get more high schools to implement the AP curriculum. We know that the College Board has been losing market share to the ACT, so is this a business decision intended to reverse the declining revenue?
We applaud the efforts by admissions offices at colleges to build meaningful diversity in their student bodies. Our communities, our nation, and our world will be better for it. But, is it fair that the College Board, the group that has designed a test that has proven to be unfair and biased towards black and Hispanic students and those from low income backgrounds, is now telling everyone that they have a secret score that somehow mitigates the discrimination? Is it fair that the College Board penalize students who happen to live in affluent areas and attend good schools, especially those schools that don’t offer AP courses?
Increasing numbers of colleges have already decided to eliminate the SAT (and ACT) from their admissions process and report talented and diverse cohorts of students enrolling. Perhaps now is the ideal time for a reboot of the entire process, focused less on pleasing shareholders and more on investing in quality public education for all students that prepares them to be successful students in college and beyond. We’re not convinced the College Board has anything besides its own business interests in mind.