SAT/ACT NEWS & UPDATES

Matt's Latest SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

May 29, 2024

 
Chalkbeat Chicago covers the recent announcement that Illinois will be switching from the statewide administration of the SAT to the ACT test, and will require all high school students to take the ACT in order to graduate.

[Excerpts]

Illinois high school juniors will take the ACT instead of the SAT to graduate starting next school year.

The Illinois State Board of Education was updated on the switch during its monthly meeting on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the school board says the ACT was awarded a $53 million contract over the course of six years. The state requires students to take a college entrance exam in order to graduate.

“At the end of the day, it came down to price,” said Stephen Isoye, chairman of the State Board of Education, noting that state law requires assessment vendors to go through a competitive procurement process.

State Superintendent Tony Sanders wrote in a weekly message to school administrators on Tuesday that the ACT “aligns with the Illinois Learning Standards, provides a secure online testing experience for students, reduces administrative burden on districts,” and will give “actionable reporting for educators and families.”

The procurement office evaluated bids from the College Board, which administers the SAT, and ACT Inc. on “technical specifications, commitment to diversity, and price.” Overall, the ACT received more points.

School districts in the state have given high school juniors the SAT for almost a decade. Illinois switched from ACT to the SAT in 2016 and has renewed the contract with the College Board several times.

However, Sanders said the state board will work with ACT to support schools through the transition.

“We will help you prepare teachers for the transition and help you communicate with students and families, so you can continue doing your best work in teaching and learning,” Sanders wrote in his weekly message.

This is a significant development in the competition between the two tests for market share, as Illinois administered the SAT to nearly 143,000 of its students in 2023.

 
WTTW has additional details about the Illinois test switch:

[Excerpts]

State Superintendent of Education Tony Sanders explained the decision in a weekly message posted online, saying the ACT aligns with the Illinois Learning Standards and provides a “secure online testing experience” for students, while reducing administrative burden on school districts.

“I understand the effect that changing assessment vendors has on the work that schools do to prepare students for success,” Sanders said in the message. “ISBE’s Assessment Department will partner with ACT once the contract is executed to provide ample support to the field. We will help you prepare teachers for the transition and help you communicate with students and families, so you can continue doing your best work in teaching and learning.”

Illinois previously used the ACT as a testing requirement for 15 years, until it switched to the SAT in 2016.

ISBE said its goal is to have its contract finalized by the start of the fiscal year on July 1 so it can put a transition support plan in place by July 15.

A spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools said the district will communicate all potential changes to students and families by the end of the current school year.

”The District will continue to administer the state-required assessments each spring,” a CPS spokesperson said in a statement. “Based on ISBE's announcement, this means CPS will begin to administer the ACT assessments, not the PSAT and SAT, in Spring 2025 as the state high school accountability tests.”

 
Four schools that are part of the Georgia University system will reinstate SAT/ACT requirements for all applicants starting with the 2026-27 academic year.

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Augusta [University], Georgia State, Georgia Southern and Kennesaw State will instead revive SAT and ACT requirements for applicants seeking admission in fall 2026, after the current testing waiver expires.

“The standardized testing will be a great instrument for us to determine the strengths and weaknesses of every student coming in,” Perdue said Tuesday, according to local news sources.

The board also voted to allow the system’s remaining 19 institutions the option to require test scores.

 
US News & World Report offers an article examining the potential impact upon students from the reintroduction of SAT/ACT mandates by many colleges:

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"Test-optional policies, which were instituted during a global pandemic, have become yet another element of the college application process that have inadvertently created confusion and miscalculation," Logan Powell, associate provost for enrollment and dean of undergraduate admission at Brown, wrote in an email. "One of our goals in requiring standardized testing is to offer clarity to families – we consider testing but we consider it as one of many factors in the whole-person admission review."

"Study after study shows when testing was optional, applications went up at a lot of institutions and especially from underrepresented groups," says Akil Bello, senior director of advocacy and advancement at FairTest. "There's no universal answer to what will happen, but the general trends are if you remove a barrier, more people will apply."

He adds that the restoration of admissions testing requirements will affect students unequally.

"For some students, it will have a chilling effect and reduce the number of applications," Bello says. "Some students will look at average test scores and say, 'I'm not applying to that place.' Other students will say, 'This is a thing I'm good at that I have the money to pay for preparation for. Great, this will help me over somebody else who can't prepare for the test.'"

There have been some unintended consequences of test-optional policies in terms of more applications, says Christopher Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Education, a San Diego-based educational consultancy.

Test-optional "should be beneficial to students," he says. "I think in general, though, it's meant that universities have something they want ... more applicants, in some cases. But they also have to invent new systems to evaluate them. And many of those new systems have involved part-time, outside, hourly readers who read with a different sensibility and ... are compensated on a per-piece basis, in some cases. There's some pretty strong evidence that kids may be getting a less robust, less three-dimensional look from colleges just because of the fact that there's 15, 20, 30,000 additional applicants."

 
The Los Angeles Times offers an article focusing on Asian American thoughts regarding the recent upheavals in the US college admissions landscape, as well as the return of SAT/ACT requirements at some selective colleges.

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Most Asian American adults support use of the SAT and other standardized testing, along with high school grades, in college admission decisions but reject considering race or ethnicity to determine access, according to a new national survey released Wednesday.

The majority also think it’s unfair for colleges to consider an applicant’s athletic ability, family alumni ties, ability to pay full tuition or parents’ educational levels in determining who should get acceptance letters, the survey found.

Asian American support for standardized testing comes as several elite universities have restored those requirements for admissions after pausing them during the pandemic. In recent months, Harvard, Caltech, Yale, Dartmouth and the University of Texas at Austin, among others, have reinstated testing mandates.

The University of California and California State University have both eliminated standardized testing requirements for admission.

While some UC leaders have indicated interest in reviewing the impact of that decision on student outcomes, faculty leaders say there may not be much of an appetite for it. The UC Board of Regents rejected the Academic Senate’s recommendation to retain testing requirements and voted to bar them for admissions decisions.

USC is continuing its test-optional policy — accepting scores from those who wish to submit them but not penalizing those who don’t — and is reviewing whether to continue that course.

Frank Xu, a San Diego parent of a high-school sophomore and an MIT student, said he opposed UC regents’ decision to nix testing mandates and believes that the preponderance of research shows that test scores highly correlate with college success.

“I’m all for research-based decisions, and I felt that at UC, it was a completely political decision to ignore the faculty senate,” he said.

But some Asian American students say testing is an unfair factor in admissions decisions.

At Downtown Magnets High School, students Rida Hossain and Shariqa Sultana said their families were not able to afford test prep, with annual incomes of less than $30,000 and relatives in Bangladesh to support.

“Standardized testing doesn’t portray a student’s capacity for how they’ll perform in higher education, because in the classroom, they’ll be doing a lot of essay writing, research, collaboration and projects that wouldn’t necessarily be put into a multiple-choice exam,” Shariqa said. “How you actually perform in class and your extracurriculars are a better metric than one test that determines your entire future.”

[Karthick Ramakrishnan, a UC Riverside professor of public policy and political science and founder of AAPI Data] said there are several reasons why many Asian Americans support standardized testing. The majority are immigrants from China, Korea, India and other countries that use such tests for college admissions, he said. They are accustomed to a system of high-stakes testing and see it as an equitable way to determine college access, compared with wealth or political connections.

The survey backs up that point, showing that 70% of AAPI respondents who are immigrants back testing, compared with 56% of those born in the United States. A plurality of those surveyed, 45%, said it was fair to consider personal experiences with hardship or adversity.

 
This Washington Times article provides a useful summary of recent test optional rollbacks, as well as reactions to the reinstatement of testing requirements.

[Excerpts]

“Even for highly selective institutions, requiring the SAT or ACT has the potential to change the application pool in favor of students who are more privileged,” Tim Cain, a professor of higher education at the University of Georgia, told The Washington Times. “As such, institutions might miss out on highly qualified applicants from lower socioeconomic status and more diverse backgrounds when they mandate the tests.”

“I believe these tests are returning in part due to the diversity fatigue America is experiencing,” said Omekongo Dibinga, a professor of intercultural communications affiliated with the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. “Ending affirmative action as we know it has led to increased scrutiny on college applications and [conservatives] are actively challenging every aspect of the college admissions process that might take DEI into some form of consideration.”

In March 2022, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology became the first elite school to announce that it was restoring SAT requirements. At the time, MIT officials said the test helped them “better assess” applicants and identify disadvantaged applicants.

Most other schools continued their test-free policies until this year. In the Ivy League, Yale announced in February that it would return to the SAT and Harvard said in April that it will require scores for entering freshmen in 2025.

Brown, Dartmouth, Cal Tech, Cornell, Georgetown. The University of Tennessee system, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Wisconsin at Madison have all done the same in recent months.

Brian E. Clark, a Brown University spokesperson, said a “thorough analysis” of the Ivy League school’s test-optional policy “found that SAT and ACT scores are among the key indicators that help predict a student’s ability to succeed and thrive” there.

“Therefore, Brown will reinstate the standardized testing requirement beginning with the next admission cycle for the Class of 2029, resuming the consideration of test scores among a wide range of factors that are considered as part of Brown’s holistic approach to evaluating each individual applicant and their overall academic record, background and opportunities,” Mr. Clark said.

As the SAT mandates surge, the College Board has overhauled the test in recent decades.

According to Mr. Dibinga, however, the test still exhibits a cultural bias toward students from wealthy schools and privileged backgrounds with more test preparation resources.

“The SAT is a flawed measure of intelligence and aptitude,” he said.

Other academics expressed mixed feelings about the resumption of SAT testing for different reasons. They questioned whether more recent changes have “dumbed down” the content.

“I’m ambiguous about the SATs,” said the Rev. Stephen Fields, who has taught at Georgetown for 30 years. “More information is better, but I suspect their changed standards no longer reliably measure potential.”

 
In an article titled "The ACT Needs a Makeover, and May be Getting One Soon" a prominent tutor examines the impact that the recently introduced, shorter, digital version of the SAT will have on the structure of the ACT.

[Excerpts]

ACT, Inc., parent company of the ACT test, has been struggling, losing market share, and falling behind the College Board. With this loss in popularity, it’s clear that waiting on the sidelines, while the College Board overhauls its flagship test to become a more student-friendly assessment, has not been a successful strategy. While the ACT has a whopping 215 questions, a testing time of 2 hours and 55 minutes and 48.8 seconds/question, the digital adaptive SAT has a mere 98 questions, a testing time of 2 hours and 14 minutes, and 82 seconds per question. In terms of timing per question, the SAT gives students 68% more time per question. That’s a big deal. It’s no surprise that many students now prefer the length and pacing of the SAT.

It appears the ACT is finally acknowledging it must adapt to the times and preferences of students. Students signing up for the June ACT now have the option of signing up for the chance to take an ACT with fewer questions, and more time per question. Here’s the link to the announcement of the June 2024 study, billed as “a chance to take a shorter test!” Note that students “will be randomly assigned a test form with one of two timing conditions: either the full ACT, or a version with fewer questions and reduced time per section.” Students will not know which version they will receive until test day.

The ACT has given no indication whether or not this new testing form will be an adaptive test form, like the SAT, or a conventional test form, using classical test theory. The only way to dramatically reduce the number of items and still arrive at a reliable and valid score is through the adoption of item response theory, a foundation of adaptive testing. Potentially ACT, Inc. is looking to merely trim the number of items, slightly reducing the problem set per section, without a radical overhaul of its test.