Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update:

Matt O'Connor

Mar 28, 2018

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed covers the Harvard announcement that the university will no longer require applicants to submit SAT/ACT essays:


Harvard University has announced that it will no longer require applicants to submit the essay portion of either the SAT or the ACT, even though they will still be required to submit scores for the other parts of the tests.

A statement Harvard released Sunday night noted that applicants will still submit essays, and that writing is an important part of the admissions process -- just not the essays of the standardized testing providers.

Here is a Harvard Crimson article on the same development.


Harvard College will no longer require applicants to submit scores from the optional writing portions of the ACT and SAT beginning with the Class of 2023, according to a Monday statement.

“Harvard will accept the ACT/SAT with or without writing, starting with the Class of 2023, entering in August 2019,” College spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an emailed statement. “This change will add an additional component to the comprehensive outreach of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI), which seeks outstanding students from all economic backgrounds.”

Despite the choice given to students, the majority of the few million test-takers each year choose to complete the writing portion of the exams. According to the Princeton Review’s blog, Harvard’s decision leaves only 29 schools requiring the essays.

In 2015, other Ivy League universities, including, Columbia, Cornell, and Penn, announced they were ending the essay requirement. Brown, Dartmouth, and Yale are among the Ivies which still require essay scores. Among other peer institutions, Stanford requires the essay while MIT does not.
When Penn changed its policy, Eric J. Furda, the school’s dean of admissions, cited what he called the essays’ “weaker predictive power” in a 2015 statement.

“Our internal analysis as well as a review of the extensive research provided by the College Board showed that the essay component of the SAT was the least predictive element of the overall Writing section of the SAT,” Furda said.

Nick Anderson of the Washington Post has written an article on the variability in statewide and school district contracts when it comes to the essay portion of the SAT and ACT.


A dwindling number of top schools do require SAT or ACT essay scores. These holdouts include the University of California, Yale, Duke, Princeton and Stanford universities.

That creates a dilemma for states and school systems that pay for admission testing: Should they also pay for the essay exams when most colleges do not require them? If they do not pay for them, are they hindering students who might want to apply to certain elite universities?

It also poses a challenge for those few universities: Are they losing out on otherwise deserving students because of their essay policy?

Nineteen states fund ACT testing in public schools. Of those, the ACT said, eight do not pay for the essay-writing option: Arkansas, Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee. In all, 46 percent of students who take the ACT during the school day do not write an essay.

The College Board said 71 percent of students who took the SAT through the school day initiative in the past two years did so with the essay portion. The essay is standard for SAT programs in Delaware, Michigan, Illinois and several other states.

A bill has been introduced in California to allow school districts to substitute the SAT/ACT for the California statewide high school assessment (currently the Smarter Balanced test). (Note: the same assemblyman sponsoring the bill unsuccessfully tried to legislate the initiation of a similar program on a pilot basis last year):

High school juniors could get relief from test fatigue under bill to offer SAT for 11th-grade test


Undeterred by past opposition of the state superintendent and State Board of Education, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell is trying again to give high schools the option to swap the Smarter Balanced 11th-grade English language arts and math tests for either the SAT or the ACT. He said he has broad support of superintendents and school principals behind him.

At a press conference Tuesday in Sacramento, O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, revealed Assembly Bill 1951, which would require the state superintendent to select one or both national college readiness exams as alternatives to give all high school juniors, starting in 2019-20. Districts would be reimbursed for the cost of administering the tests. O’Donnell, a former government and geography teacher for the Paramount Unified School District, chairs the Assembly Education Committee.

“It’s about local control, letting districts decide the best assessment for 11th-grade students,” he said in an interview. “The SAT is more meaningful to students, and they take it more seriously.”

O’Donnell said that an “outpouring of support” after the defeat of last year’s bill led him to return with a bill opening up an alternative exam to all districts. According to the College Board, which administers the SAT, this year 30 districts in California have given or will give the SAT during the day at no cost to students, in addition to the required Smarter Balanced assessment. Three years ago, only four school districts gave the SAT to all students. ACT, which is less popular than SAT in California, said students in 33 schools will take or took the test this year.

O’Donnell expects many more districts would do so if they could choose a college readiness exam instead of Smarter Balanced, eliminating one more test students have to take in a high-stakes junior year already packed with Advance Placement exams and end-of-course tests.

This article from last summer indicates that a growing number of California school districts offer students a free college entrance exam (including some of the largest districts), which suggests that there might be growing momentum to use SAT/ACT as the HS assessment in California:


An increasing number of school districts and charter school organizations in California are offering either the SAT or ACT, the other college readiness test, for free to all high school juniors. Newly published research concluded that one benefit — a statistically significant increase in 4-year college enrollment — shows the effort is a smart investment.

In 2016-17, 22 districts offered the SAT for free, compared with only four districts two years earlier, according to the College Board, which administers the SAT. An additional six districts, plus 10 charter school organizations and Catholic schools and a county office of education, offered the ACT for free last year. Together, they include some of the state’s largest districts and charters: Santa Ana and Aspire Public Schools (ACT), and Long Beach, Fresno, San Jose and Oakland (SAT).

“We see it as valuable,” said Richard Sheehan, superintendent of Covina-Valley Unified District in Los Angeles County, which introduced the SAT for all two years ago. “It creates a high level of expectations, part of our culture of college and career readiness,” and helped raise the percentage of district students who qualified for CSU and UC admission to 62 percent, compared with 43 percent statewide, he said.

Catherine Gewertz of Education Week has written an article titled, "Don't Use SAT and ACT as Your High School Tests, Study Urges":


States should not use the SAT or ACT to measure high school achievement because those exams don’t fully reflect states’ academic standards, and could distort what’s taught in the classroom, according to a study released Tuesday.

The paper, released by Achieve, which pushes for high-quality standards and tests, calls for a halt in an assessment trend that’s been picking up steam in recent years: states using the SAT or ACT instead of their high school tests. This school year, 13 states are using one of those college-admissions tests statewide to measure high school achievement.

Another Catherine Gewertz article from last week addressed the North Dakota announcement: North Dakota Is First State to Let Districts Use ACT Instead of State Exam


In the first move of its kind, the U.S. Department of Education has granted North Dakota permission to use a new kind of testing flexibility in federal law: the right to let school districts substitute the ACT for the state's own required high school assessment.

North Dakota officials announced the decision Wednesday, after receiving a permission-granting letter from the U.S. Department of Education.

With permission in hand, 17 school districts in North Dakota—which together enroll 3,735 11th grade students, half of the state's high school juniors—will administer the ACT to all 11th graders this spring..

In an interview with Education Week late last month, [North Dakota's state superintendent of education, Kirsten] Baesler noted the "baffling irony" in the law and regulations. If a state wants to adopt the SAT or ACT as its statewide high school exam, it can do so without submitting the test to review before it's administered for the first time. The prior review is required only if a state wants to let districts substitute one of those tests for its statewide test.

"If we just told all our districts that the ACT was our statewide test, we would have been able to do peer review after the first administration [of the test]," she said.

Scott Jaschik covers a recent announcement by Tufts: Tufts Drops SAT Subject-Test Requirement


Tufts University has announced that it will no longer require the SAT subject tests. The university had been among 10 American colleges to require what had once been standard for admission to competitive colleges.

A statement posted on the university's website said, "Beginning with applicants to the Class of 2023, Tufts requires either the SAT or the ACT. We do not require SAT Subject Tests, the SAT Essay, or the writing section of the ACT...

Karen Richardson, dean of admissions and enrollment management at Tufts, via email offered these reasons for the shift: "We recognized that most universities no longer require the subject tests as part of the testing requirement. There also seemed to be fewer opportunities offered for students to take the subject tests, raising questions of accessibility. Additionally, our institutional research office has determined there is very minimal correlation between performance on the subject tests and a student's performance in first-year classes here."

University of Michigan public policy, education, and economics professor and Brookings Institution fellow Susan M. Dynarski has written an article calling for "universal testing" on the SAT/ACT. Her piece cites information from the Joshua Hyman ACT study.

The journalists who wrote the Reuters Cheat Sheet series of articles about test security and other issues regarding the SAT and ACT were finalists for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting.