Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Jun 29, 2022

The University of Maryland system has announced that its SAT/ACT requirement has been abandoned:


The University System of Maryland’s board of regents voted recently to pave the way for its 12 universities to remove the requirement for prospective students to provide their SAT or ACT scores for admission.

Although the schools still have the autonomy to set their own admissions standards, Friday’s vote removes the language requiring them to consider test scores within their admissions practices.

According to Joann Boughman, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for the university system, the change comes after heavy consideration and mirrors national trends. All the schools within the system had already shifted to a test-optional model, many during the coronavirus pandemic, when testing was less available.

“It was not our choice necessarily to go test-optional, but for the last two years, we have dealt with accepting many, many students across our system who did not have SAT or ACT scores,” Boughman said.

She added that other factors such as an applicant’s grade-point average are reasonably good, if not better, at predicting success in college.

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the longtime president of UMBC, said Friday that he also supports the test-optional model, but stressed the importance of standardized testing overall.

“Particularly for students of color, we have to find ways … of helping them to have the skills they need to succeed on standardized tests, though, because when you think about medical school or law school or the CPA or the nursing exam or the teacher’s exam, all of these are standardized tests,” Hrabowski said during the meeting.

UMBC went test-optional during the onset of the pandemic. The first class that had the option were freshmen starting during fall 2021, said Yvette Mozie-Ross, the university’s vice provost for enrollment management and planning.

“UMBC has completely embraced this,” she said, “and I’m really excited about what it means for us in terms of serving the students in Maryland and beyond.”

The University of Baltimore shifted to a test-optional model in 2019, so the new vote won’t affect it much, said spokesman Chris Hart. “The system is just catching up,” he said.

Akil Bello has written an article for Forbes regarding the shifting relationship between test-prep tutors and the College Board and ACT, Inc. titled "The Testing Predators Have Beaten ACT And The College Board."


On the morning of the June ACT, Janet Godwin, ACT’s CEO, wasn’t in her office overseeing one of the largest administrations of the year. She was at a three star hotel in Atlanta hobnobbing with members of the test preparation industry. Godwin and an executive from the College Board were at the 2nd annual conference of a test preparation industry association. While it’s not uncommon for test prep tutors to attend test publisher conferences, it’s highly unusual for the senior executives from the test makers to accept an invitation from a group that David Coleman, the College Board’s CEO, called “predators who prey on the anxieties of parents and children and provide no real educational benefit.”

What does it mean that ACT’s CEO is giving a keynote address, attending education sessions, and schmoozing at happy hour with high priced tutors and the College Board executive is giving the test coaches early insights into the forthcoming cyber SAT? It means that test preparation “predators” have brought the test publishers to heel.

The College Board and the Educational Testing Service, which actually wrote the SAT until 2016, took great pains to rebut any report that suggested test preparation could lead to large score gains, since by its own admission, “If the board's test can be regularly beaten through coaching, then the board is itself discredited." Despite the test publishers' arguments, test preparation continued to attract customers looking to improve their scores.

The enmity between the two camps might have been good for education as a whole with each segment acting as a check against the other. Test publishers have sued test prep organizations and helped catch cheaters. Test prep companies have been watchdogs on the test makers and each other, exposing leaked tests, bad test questions, problematic policies and practices, and false accusations of cheating.

But the potential for the two sides of the testing industry to act in concert to improve outcomes for students has never been realized. Test publishers responded to criticism and test optional policies by making the test valuable as a lead generation tool for colleges. Test prep for its part will always be an engine of inequality and unfairness, reselling insight and support to whoever can pay the fee. Let’s not forget that at the heart of almost every test cheating scandal has been a test preparation company or tutor.

The presence of the publishers at the test prep conference sends a very clear signal that where they once might have been driven by a mission to deliver evidence-based, research-driven assessments they were now primarily salesmen, doing everything possible to sell a product and generate leads for college recruiters.

The merging of test publishers and test preparation appears to be not only an admission that test preparation works but also the defanging of some of the most knowledgeable critics of the test.

While it's entirely possible that a relationship between test prep and test makers might yield positive outcomes for students. In fact, I attended two such conferences at ACT headquarters where the discussion centered on process and procedures that could improve student outcomes, fee waiver processes, etc. The test prep conference on the other hand is a business and marketing event that will let the test prep industry boast about their coziness with the test makers, gain insider information about the digital SAT, and better sell their wares. The more frightening outcome could be that certain prep companies would gain information that allowed them to subvert all security and provide access to test materials to their clients.

In 1999, Don Powers, a research scientist with ETS, said “If we were to find that the tests were highly coachable in a relatively short period of time it would undermine the validity claims about what these tests measure.'' Since then the number of colleges that do not require the SAT or ACT has risen from a mere handful to more than 80% of four year colleges. The test publishers no longer seem concerned that support of test preparation will undermine the validity of their exams; instead, they’ve decided to join forces with the only other group that benefits from the expansion of admissions tests.

June 2022 marks the date when the test publishers, having failed to undermine the credibility of the test prep coaches or to create the promised “bad day” for the test preparation industry, decided to save their tests by legitimizing the “predators.”

Former Vassar College president Catharine Hill has authored an article for Inside Higher Ed that examines nascent efforts by the Carnegie Foundation and the American Council on Education to counter the impact of the US News Best Colleges rankings.


Since 1970, the Carnegie Classification system has helped make sense of the diversity of institutions that make up higher education in the U.S., grouping them based on the degrees they offer, their size and the research productivity of their faculty, among other measures. Earlier this year, the Carnegie Foundation and the American Council on Education announced that they would partner on the classifications and specifically described the need for the “Carnegie Classification system to reflect the nation’s pressing social, racial, and economic concerns and challenge higher education institutions and their public, social, and commercial sector partners to meaningfully address them.”

While inside the academy and among policy makers, the Carnegie Classifications denote important characteristics, this is not where parents and students look when they are making decisions about colleges. For that, U.S. News & World Report and its annual rankings carry the most weight. And for decades, U.S. News has been critiqued for not including measures of economic and social mobility or racial diversity in its formula—measures that ACE will now explicitly include in the Carnegie Classifications. While the classifications are not officially a ranking, by incorporating economic and social mobility as well as race, ACE is resurfacing critiques of the U.S. News rankings.

Alternative rankings such as The Washington Monthly’s have incorporated various attributes that reflect the public mission of higher education institutions—the reason colleges and universities are subsidized by local, state and federal governments. Over a decade ago, I proposed adding the share of Pell Grant recipients enrolled—compared to what might be expected given the selectivity of the college—to the variables used by U.S. News, and I reranked the top liberal arts colleges including this new measure. Those doing more for economic and social mobility—admitting a more diverse student body—moved up in the rankings, bumping down those doing less. My hope has been that a ranking that reflected these public benefits would encourage competition among the elite colleges on contributing to these public benefits, but to little avail. U.S. News did ultimately add two measures based on Pell Grants to its ranking, yet the combined weight is only 5 percent, doing little to reward a greater commitment to lower-income students on the part of colleges and universities.

Why? Because these efforts missed the point that U.S. News is produced for families and their children and not policy makers. Public goods are supplied by governments for precisely the reason that the market (made up of those families and their children) doesn’t take public benefits into account when making decisions.

So while institutions and policy makers claim that equal opportunity and support for economic mobility are important goals, U.S. News continues to dominate the rankings world because the families that are sending their children to the selective colleges that are ranked by U.S. News do not actually care that much about—or at least are not considering—these public benefits. If they did, U.S. News would give greater weight to the benefits in their rankings. But families likely understand that a commitment to socioeconomic and racial diversity implies greater expenditures on need-based aid, which takes resources away from other programs that would benefit their children, from smaller class sizes to renovated dormitories. And families that don’t need financial aid also worry that their children will lose “their” seats, reducing available seats for their children if too many are allocated to needy students.

Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to make U.S. News consider the metrics that measure the extent of whether higher education serves the public good. We could devise better rankings if we explicitly recognize that policy makers are a different audience from the families sending their children to college. The Carnegie Classifications, with a new emphasis on racial and socioeconomic diversity, should be of great interest to policy makers deciding on whether the subsidies allocated to colleges and universities are worth it in terms of their contributions to the public good.

A brief video report addresses the lessening availability of SAT/ACT testing sites, due to the pandemic and lower test demand due to the widespread adoption of test optional policies. As covered in the piece, a student applying to MIT had to drive over 40 miles to find a testing center open on the desired date, which is not an option available to all students.

The University of Cincinnati has announced a two-year extension to its test optional policy:


The University of Cincinnati will extend its test-optional admissions policy for an additional two-year period as a result of significant disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past two years, the decision to move to test optional has increased access to University of Cincinnati, directly impacting equity, inclusion and opportunities for students.

The move means that students entering UC in 2023 and 2024 will not be required to submit standardized test scores from the ACT or SAT to gain admission to the vast majority of programs. Though a few programs will still require a standardized test — namely, the College of Nursing's Direct-Admit BSN program — most applicants will be able to choose whether or not to submit scores to be considered as part of UC’s new holistic admissions review model.

“This is the direction we are going in as a nation,” says Jack Miner, UC’s vice provost for enrollment management.

Miner says research indicates universities that have implemented test-optional policies in recent years are not seeing an academic slide, and those same universities are gaining a more diverse student body. This is also the case at UC, which has seen a record increase in diversity for all populations as well as first-generation students.

“Schools that have gone in this direction have started seeing an increase in diversity both in applications and enrollment,” says Miner. “They are enrolling more underrepresented minority students as well as more economically diverse students.”

Lastly, here is an interesting article from last year that is worth re-visiting:

Matt Feeney in a piece for The New Yorker titled "The College Admissions Crucible" delves into the concept of college admissions practices actually re-molding students due to the perception of what constitutes a successful applicant to an elite college or university.


Our fixation on rich people exploiting loopholes in the admissions process gives implicit sanction to the regular admissions process, which is terrible, too, but on a larger scale, with worse effects on more people. The most disturbing scenes in [The Netflix film] “Operation Varsity Blues” feature contemporary high-school seniors, captured in grievous closeup by their laptop cameras, writhing in agony as they await their admissions decisions, then weeping bitterly after being rejected, or exploding in triumph when they get the big acceptance (to Brown, one assumes). These students are not only being cheated by scammers like Lori Loughlin, the movie tells us. They’re under pressure—from themselves, from their parents, from the general message that success in America requires a prestigious degree—and the colleges do their cruel part in ratcheting up the pressure when they gloat about their tiny acceptance rates.

Yet those tortured high-school faces tell a deeper story. This process wouldn’t visit such personal torment on the students if they didn’t, on a personal level, identify with it. And they wouldn’t identify with it, or buy into the insidious notion that their real worthiness is being judged through a stupid process, if admissions personnel didn’t cultivate this identification. The personnel do this by augmenting the extreme academic competition they stage—the race for good grades and high test scores—with a more “holistic” side of the college application, in which students display their distinct personalities and compete over whose is better.

In this competition, élite schools no longer want “well-rounded” grinders, cynically padding their résumés. They want “well-lopsided” kids, whose individuality stands out. They want one or two stellar activities that are “heartfelt” and “passionate.” They want quirky and likable admissions essays, not braggy ones. They want applicants to speak in their “true voice,” to be “vulnerable,” indeed, to reveal their “imperfections.” They want them to get to “know themselves” through their essays. They make their process sound like a branch of adolescent psychology, with admissions deans as gentle therapists conducting a careful search for “authentic” insight into “the real person behind the application.” It is hard to overstate how often admissions staff from the more selective schools say forms of the word “authentic.”

The idea that anxious kids who are competing with one another in a high-stakes contest to appear virtuous and likable to total strangers are going to speak in “true” rather than carefully practiced voices, present “authentic” rather than nervously curated selves, is obviously absurd. Those essays are the result of weeks and months of calculation and revision, not to mention the editorial input of parents, high-school counselors, and paid essay coaches, all of them straining to see these works in progress through the eyes of admissions deans.

But the young are impressionable. Their “true selves” are malleable and incomplete. When the stakes are high, and an earnest student is dead serious about college, and she’s been honing her application persona for years, the distinction between what’s contrived and what’s authentic will often collapse. What “holistic admissions” means is that colleges give a boost to the applicants they like more, as people. From the Internet and their essay coaches, high schoolers learn in more specific terms the traits and attitudes, the moral commitments and performative tics, that prestigious colleges are rewarding these days. Given the stakes, kids have a potent incentive not just to affect but to adopt the preferred traits, to perform the latest tics so sincerely it’s as if they’re not performing at all.

In the nineties, a rapidly growing population of eager, highly qualified, competitively savvy applicants created a headache for colleges, overwhelming their selection tools. But this headache was also an opportunity. The importance of admissions departments increased within schools, giving them a greater and more specific say in what campus life would look like. More important for American society as a whole, it gave them immense influence over the inner and outer lives of America’s teen-agers. With so many applicants and so few open slots, and such a sought-after benefit to hand out, admissions deans realized they could literally tell their teen-age applicants how to be a person.

So admissions departments employ more intimate and mysterious standards for kids to authentically satisfy. They invite their unformed teen-age applicants to form themselves before their eyes, indeed for them, via ever more idiosyncratic and heroically virtuous extracurriculars and, especially, the quirky, confessional essays they require. It may sound like overstatement that admissions personnel consciously view their selection protocols as guiding—in a totally healthy and defensible way—the profound evolution by which human identities take shape during adolescence, but they say it themselves. They draw this link—“selection procedure” and “self-formation”—like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

This blurred understanding of college applications and teen-age identities should help explain why the tormented seniors crying into their laptop cameras in “Operation Varsity Blues” have what seems like an existential investment in the process. The people who run this operation require such an investment as a condition of acceptance. What’s worse is that our default way of complaining about the system—that it’s fraught with injustices and irregularities that favor the rich—is shallow, self-defeating, and wrong in its moral assumptions. The system isn’t partially tainted; it’s entirely rotten. The colleges that it serves aren’t merely compromised. We, the parents who make the queasy bargain with them, are compromised, offering parts of our children’s souls for a marginally better chance that a college will grant us its big prize.