SAT/ACT NEWS & UPDATES

Matt's Latest SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Nov 02, 2019

New Mexico has announced that it will become the 11th state to use the SAT as its statewide high school exam for federal accountability purposes.

[Excerpts]

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart has announced the SAT will become the official statewide standardized test for high school juniors.

Stewart said Friday all New Mexico high school juniors will be required to take the SAT in the spring of 2020. He says the exam administered by the non-profit organization College Board is aligned with New Mexico academic standards and all New Mexico colleges and universities accept the test.

The move comes after a task force convened by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said any new assessment should have meaning beyond high school.

Many states that preceded New Mexico in adopting the SAT or ACT as the statewide high school exam have so far failed to prove that the exams are aligned with current education standards. The federal Department of Education has warned several states that they risk losing federal education funding unless the proper steps are taken to demonstrate such alignment.

A more detailed article about new Mexico's SAT adoption has been published by the Albuquerque Journal.

ACT, Inc. has released the official ACT testing report for the 2018-19 school year. A total of 1,782,820 students from the graduating high school class of 2019 took the ACT at least once during high school. This figure is down nearly 15% from the peak ACT testing level of 2016, due to the loss of statewide contracts to the SAT. In contrast, the number of US students among the graduating high school class of 2019 that took the SAT at least once rose to a record 2 million.

Excerpts from ACT’s press release follow.

[Excerpts]

A slight decline in college readiness is continuing in general, particularly longer-term downward trends in math and English which were identified last year. In fact, the percentages of graduates meeting the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in math and English are the lowest they’ve been in 15 years.

In addition, Asian American students have actually improved their readiness over the past five years. This year, 62 percent met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, unchanged from the past two years but up from 59 percent in 2015.

Overall, 37 percent of ACT-tested graduates in the class of 2019 met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks (English, reading, math and science), showing strong college readiness. This is down slightly from 38 percent last year and 39 percent in 2017.

However, nearly as many—36 percent—did not meet any of the four benchmarks, a number that has increased over the past several years.

Approximately 40 percent of ACT-tested 2019 graduates took the test as part of a state- or district-funded administration, where all students take the ACT on a school day. This is a trend that has been increasing since 2015, when only 27 percent of ACT-tested graduates took the test as part of a statewide or districtwide administration.

The University of California is currently conducting a review of its use of the SAT and ACT in its admissions process, but a group of college-access and civil-rights groups is unwilling to await the outcome, threatening a lawsuit against UC unless the university system discontinues the use of the tests. Eric Hoover of The Chronicle of Higher Education covers the story:

[Excerpts]

Lawyers representing students, the Compton Unified School District, civil-rights groups, and college-access organizations said on Tuesday that they planned to sue the University of California unless it drops its ACT/SAT requirement.

In a letter to the system’s regents, the lawyers allege that the testing requirement violates state civil-rights laws. They describe their clients as well-qualified students who as a result of the requirement “have been subject to unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, disability, and wealth.”

The potential lawsuit apparently would be the first to take direct aim at a college’s ACT/SAT requirement. This legal curveball comes as the influential university system is once again scrutinizing its reliance on college-entrance exams. Recently, members of UC’s Academic Senate began a study to determine whether the ACT and SAT are useful measures of academic performance . (Test scores are among the 14 factors the university considers in its evaluations of applicants.)

The Academic Senate’s forthcoming recommendations, expected next year, could have far-reaching implications for the testing industry. After all, the mammoth university system is the SAT biggest customer; if it stopped requiring the test, many other institutions might follow suit. And then the ground beneath the feet of legions of college applicants could shift.

In their demand letter, lawyers for the potential plaintiffs distinguished between the university’s internal study and a potential lawsuit: “This is not a discretionary policy decision; it is a legal obligation, and it is urgent.”

The letter alleges that requiring admission exams discriminates against underrepresented minority students, multilingual learners, and students with disabilities. Moreover, the letter contends, that discrimination is exacerbated by unequal access to test preparation.

“The admissions process must take place on a level playing field … that rejects privilege and wealth as decisive factors,” Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer for Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm based in Los Angeles, said during a teleconference on Tuesday. The university’s testing requirement “creates unlawful barriers for talented and qualified students with less wealth.”

In a written statement, Zachary Goldberg, a spokesman for the College Board, said that the letter contained several incorrect assertions: “The notion that the SAT is discriminatory is false,” he said. “Any objective measure of student achievement will shine a light on inequalities in our education system.”

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed also covers the potential lawsuit against UC.

The College Board has canceled October SAT scores in Hong Kong and Egypt due to test security concerns. Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed covers the story:

[Excerpts]

The College Board has canceled -- for now -- the October SAT scores from tests administered in Egypt and Hong Kong.

In a notice that was posted to Reddit (and confirmed by the College Board press office), the board said, "Because of the illegal theft of material from the SAT, which was administered internationally earlier this month, we were forced to cancel or hold a significant number of scores of students who tested primarily in Egypt and Hong Kong. Scores [that] have been placed on hold for review and cleared will be released in approximately two weeks. We're aware of the difficult timing of these score cancellations and holds, as you approach early decision deadlines."

Jaslee Carayol, director of media relations for the board, said, "We can’t get into details about our investigation, but the theft and resulting exposure of content from the October International SAT was broad enough that we were forced to put on hold or cancel scores to ensure the integrity of the administration."

Another Reddit post, from a student in Egypt, included the College Board's statement to him: "We never want to cancel scores and only do so when we can't stand behind a score's reliability."

Those words didn't provide comfort, the student wrote. "SAT got canceled for everyone in my country. It's so annoying how College Board can get away with this."

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has written an article that addresses the continued expansion of test optional policies among college admissions offices.

[Excerpts]

For students who fear they can’t get into college with mediocre SAT or ACT scores, the tide is turning at a record number of schools that have decided to accept all or most of their freshmen without requiring test results.

Meanwhile, two Ivy League schools have decided that many of their graduate school programs do not need a test score for admissions, fresh evidence of growing disenchantment among educational institutions with using high-stakes tests as a factor in accepting and rejecting students.

It may not quite have reached a tipping point, but the admissions world is clearly grappling with the use of standardized tests in admissions.

Robert A. Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, which opposes the misuse of standardized tests, said the past year has seen the “fastest growth spurt ever” of schools ending the SAT/ACT test score as an admission requirement. Over the summer, more than one school a week announced the change.

Nearly 50 accredited colleges and universities that award bachelor’s degrees announced from September 2018 to September 2019 that they were dropping the admissions requirement for an SAT or ACT score, FairTest said. That brings the number of accredited schools to have done so to 1,050 — about 40 percent of the total, the nonprofit said.

An indication that some education policymakers are getting frustrated with the debate over using ACT/SAT scores in admissions came recently at a meeting of the Board of Regents of the University of California system.

The Los Angeles Times reported that board Chairman John A. Pérez “startled meeting participants” when he asked the general counsel of the UC system whether regents had to wait for the faculty senate’s task force to finish a review before acting on the issue. The task force was put together last year by University of California President Janet Napolitano.

According to the Times, Vice Chairwoman Cecilia Estolano said at the meeting that tests use a “clearly flawed methodology that has a discriminatory impact” and “we don’t need any more studies” on the issue.

Other regents offered different views, but there was clearly some sentiment against the use of the tests for admissions. What the University of California does could have widespread impact on higher education admissions policy nationally.

Jim Jump, a frequent op-ed contributor to Inside Higher Ed, opines on the ramifications of the recent announcement that students will be able to retake single sections on the ACT starting in September of 2020.

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It has been nearly a century since essays and recommendation letters entered the application process. Test-optional admission celebrated its 50th birthday a year ago. In the course of my career, I have seen a shift from colleges admitting well-rounded students to colleges crafting a well-rounded class. But what other recent changes are revolutionary, lasting and significant? For example, will committee-based evaluation revolutionize college admission?

Last week ACT announced three changes that could change the landscape and future of college admissions testing in multiple ways. All of the changes will begin with the September 2020 administration of the test. ACT presented the changes as enhancements “that keep students’ needs in mind,” and they are, but the cynics among us will wonder whether the changes are designed to help students “reach their maximum potential for college and career readiness” or are instead a salvo in ACT’s battle with the SAT for market share.

The change that has received the least attention might be the most consequential. Students will be able to take the ACT online at a test center on national ACT dates, with results from the multiple-choice sections of the test available as early as two business days after the test is taken.

That seems revolutionary, but is it? My daughter took the Medical College Admission Test online several years ago, and apparently all administrations of that test have been conducted online since 2007. Tests such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language, Graduate Record Examination and Law School Admissions Test can be taken online, all at a test center.

The second change is that students who have previously taken the ACT will now be able to retake individual sections of the test. That has also been suggested before and seems to make sense as a convenience and customer service for students. Why should a student who needs or wants to improve only the science section of the ACT have to retake the entire test?

Why indeed? That raises more fundamental questions about both the use of test scores and the assumptions underlying standardized testing.

Both the SAT and ACT have always been designed to be marathons rather than sprints. The physical and mental ordeal of spending three to four hours testing has always been part of the game. But are there valid reasons for that? Does a longer, more grueling test produce “better,” more valid results? Do the tests measure aptitude (or whatever they claim to be measuring nowadays) or stamina?

Single-section retesting also raises questions about how test scores should be interpreted. We all know that a student’s test scores have context. If you and I have identical SAT or ACT scores, but my family has spent hundreds or thousands of dollars for test prep while you took the test “cold,” those scores don’t mean the same thing. The change to taking a single section of the ACT means that we will have more “curated” ACT scores. Should a score where multiple sections have been taken multiple times be seen as the same as a score earned in a single test administration?

The third change is that ACT score reports will now include a “superscore,” with the student’s best scores by section if they have taken the ACT more than once. ACT says that this change will “support the growing trend of students taking the test multiple times,” but “encourage” might be a more appropriate verb than “support.”

What is interesting about the change is that until recently ACT had claimed that superscoring was an inappropriate use of the test. The reversal is not as dramatic or revolutionary as when the College Board went from claiming that the SAT was immune to test prep to selling its own test prep materials, but it is nevertheless the kind of reversal in position that might sabotage a politician’s career.

The fallout from the college admissions scandal that broke in 2019 continues. As covered by Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed, 3 more sets of parents have pleaded guilty in relation to the scandal, and 11 more indictments have been made.

[Excerpts]

Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of Pimco, pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He paid $525,000 to have his son and daughter admitted to the University of Southern California. He worked with Rick Singer, who orchestrated the scandal, to have his daughter pretend to be a soccer player and his son a football player.

Michelle Janavs pleaded guilty to paying $300,000 to Singer, one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. In addition to having her daughter pretend to be an athlete, Janavs paid for her ACT scores to be corrected.

And Manuel Henriquez, the founder of Hercules Capital, and his wife, Elizabeth Henriquez, pleaded guilty today to an indictment charging one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. They paid to have their daughters' SAT scores corrected, and for one of their daughters to pose as an athlete to be admitted to Georgetown University.

New federal indictments were handed down Tuesday against 11 parents in the college admissions scandal. The parents have previous faced lower charges. They were charged with allegedly "conspir[ing] to commit federal program bribery by bribing employees of the University of Southern California (USC) to facilitate their children’s admission. In exchange for the bribes, employees of the university allegedly designated the defendants’ children as athletic recruits -- with little or no regard for their athletic abilities -- or as members of other favored admissions categories."