Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update
Dec 30, 2022
More than 3 1/2 years after the unveiling of the massive college admissions scandal centered on Willian "Rick" Singer, federal prosecutors have now weighed Singer's cooperation against his malfeasance, and have determined the sentence they're recommending he receive.
Federal prosecutors on Wednesday asked a judge to sentence the mastermind of the largest U.S. college admissions fraud scheme ever uncovered to six years in prison after he helped them secure the convictions of dozens of wealthy parents including Hollywood celebrities.
Prosecutors made the recommendation a week before William "Rick" Singer, the college admissions consultant at the center of the "Operation Varsity Blues" investigation, goes before a judge for sentencing after pleading guilty in 2019.
Singer admitted to facilitating cheating on college entrance exams and funneling money from wealthy parents he counted as clients to corrupt coaches and athletics officials to secure the admission of their children as fake athletic recruits.
His own lawyers recommended that Singer receive just 12 months of home confinement, or if incarceration is deemed necessary, six months in prison, saying his decision to cooperate was key to helping prosecutors build many of the cases they brought.
But prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel, in Boston, that while Singer's "unprecedented" cooperation deserved credit, his crimes warranted the longest sentence of any "Varsity Blues" defendant.
His expected sentencing on Jan. 4 will cap an investigation that has resulted in the conviction of more than 50 people, including actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, two of the many wealthy parents Singer counted as clients.
Prosecutors said Singer, operating through his California-based college admissions counseling service The Key and a related charity, took in more than $25 million from his clients.
They said he paid out more than $7 million to bribe coaches and administrators at schools including Georgetown University, the University of Southern California, Yale University and Stanford University.
Now that Operation Varsity Blues is approaching its conclusion, it might be interesting to remember how the scandal initially came to light. From the 2019 Wall Street Journal article, "The Yale Dad Who Set Off the College-Admissions Scandal":
The tipster who led federal authorities to the biggest college-admissions scam they have ever prosecuted was Morrie Tobin, a Los Angeles financial executive who was being investigated in a securities fraud case, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
Mr. Tobin was being questioned in an alleged pump-and-dump investment scheme—in which people conspire to inflate the price of a stock so they can sell it at a profit—when he offered a tip to federal authorities in an effort to obtain leniency, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Tobin, who attended Yale University, told investigators that the head women’s soccer coach at Yale had sought a bribe in return for getting his daughter into the Ivy League school, a person familiar with the investigation said.
That tip led investigators to unravel a wide-ranging scheme in which dozens of wealthy parents allegedly paid a college consultant to facilitate cheating on entrance exams and falsifying student athletic profiles. It also involved allegedly bribing coaches at schools including the University of Southern California, Georgetown University and Stanford University to take their children on as recruited athletes, a near guaranteed way of being accepted.
To help investigators catch Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith, Mr. Tobin wore a wire to a meeting in a Boston hotel room with Mr. Meredith in April 2018, the person familiar with the matter said. At that meeting, Mr. Meredith said he could designate Mr. Tobin’s daughter as a recruit for the team in exchange for $450,000, this person said.
Morrie Tobin's cooperation resulted in a reduced sentence, from the initially-imposed one year (after the judge handling the case said that he would have leaned towards eight years without Tobin's cooperation), even further down to four months, with an additional eight months of home confinement.
Purdue University (ranked 51st among national Universities by US News) has announced that it will be reinstating its SAT/ACT requirement for Fall 2024 enrollees.
Purdue University announced Tuesday (Nov. 29) that it will resume requiring SAT and/or ACT test scores for admissions applications, beginning with students who apply for Fall 2024 admission to Purdue. The resumption was recommended by university administration and endorsed by the board of trustees.
Purdue is making the announcement now so that current high school juniors can register for and schedule their exams and submit the test results with their applications. Purdue will begin accepting 2024 applications on Aug. 1, 2023.
Purdue has been “test flexible” since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented many students from having access to a testing site. For the last two years, Purdue has recommended but not required the test scores, and nearly three-fourths of applicants have provided them. Purdue accepts SAT or ACT scores and has no preference on which test is taken. Students may report the best scores from across different tests on their admissions application.
“The evidence is clear that test scores provide essential information in a comprehensive admissions evaluation that enables us to ensure the optimal chance of success for each admitted student,” said Kris Wong Davis, Purdue vice provost for enrollment management.
Bloomberg examines the continuing uncertainty among college-bound students regarding the question of whether or not to submit test scores to selective colleges.
A lot of high school overachievers want to know: Just how optional is “test-optional” — and how does any of this affect my chances?
Does an A-student at, say, Phillips Exeter Academy, a $61,000-a-year prep school in New Hampshire, hurt her Ivy League chances by not submitting scores?
Probably, according to admissions consultants. That’s because top students at the best private and public secondary schools — and most kids who apply to elite colleges, period — still tend to submit scores.
Predictably, members of the vast college-admissions-industrial complex say that’s precisely what eager applicants should do.
“Millions of students are choosing to take our exam because they recognize its value,” says David Coleman, who runs the 122-year-old College Board, overlord of the SAT. “In a test-optional world, students still want the opportunity to take an exam and show their best work.”
Janet Godwin, his counterpart at the ACT, says: “Objective information like an ACT score that’s been benchmarked across college readiness indicators and core academic skills is still very important information for an institution to best serve a student.”
At Cornell, applications are up about 40% since the university in Ithaca, New York made the tests optional during the pandemic. The biggest increase has come from first-generation college students, according to Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment.
Burdick says that at Cornell, “optional” really does mean optional. Many applicants, however, don’t see it that way.
“Students who’ve got any kind of means — or frankly, any kind of savvy or ‘good’ background — they’re going to read ‘optional’ and decide that it’s important and they’re going to do it,” Burdick says. About 59% of Cornell applicants send in test scores, he says.
The story is similar at the University of Pennsylvania, another Ivy League school. Applications are up about 30%, especially from first-generation students, international students and students of color, says Dean of Admissions Whitney Soule. Penn is gathering data to assess how going test-optional has affected its admissions process, she says.
The test-prep industry has a ready answer for all of that: Why risk your shot at Stanford or Yale?
Bright, ambitious kids are “still trying to get a really good score because if they get a good score, they can still differentiate themselves, right?” says Brandon Busteed, chief partnership officer at test-prep-giant Kaplan.
Sal Khan, CEO of Khan Academy, is equally blunt.
“The reality is, the only way you’re going to get into one of those schools without submitting an SAT or an ACT is if you have some really stellar evidence outside of that,” Khan says.
Nonsense, says Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest. He says the admissions industry is “trying to scare the crap out of kids.”
Like other major shifts in higher education, the move toward making scores optional — or eliminating them entirely — is going to take some getting used to, Schaeffer says.
In the meantime, many students clearly aren’t taking chances.
Case in point: During the first nine months of this year, sales at Princeton Review, another big test-prep company, eclipsed sales for all of pre-pandemic 2019, according to CEO Joshua Park.
“There is still this public disbelief that ‘test-optional’ really means test-optional,” says Angel B. Perez, the CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “Standardized testing is so deeply woven into the fabric of American society.”
TIME magazine has published an article that looks at college admissions consultants with a skeptical eye:
With college admissions season upon us, a question comes to mind: Has there ever been a concept so repugnant as the private college counselor?
From the start, the odds in college admissions are stacked in favor of the rich. Roughly 4 in 10 kids born into a family in the top .1% of the income distribution will go on to attend one of the top 80 schools in Barron’s rankings. By contrast, less than one-half of 1% of children from families in the bottom income quintile make it to a, so-called, “elite” college. More than 60% don’t attend any college at all.
Those who aren’t satisfied with their advantages of birth can turn to a college counselor for additional help navigating the system. To be clear, this is not your high school guidance counselor, passing out pamphlets for the local community college or state university. These private counselors commonly are graduates of Ivy League colleges or veterans of the admissions offices in these schools or both. They take disparities between rich and poor, which diverge from birth, and explode them exponentially.
Quality science research opportunities can be hard to come by for high school students—especially ones of ordinary means—but [former University of Pennsylvania admissions office turned college consultant] Elizabeth Heaton’s organization and others like it will help you find one that can become the sort of distinguishing excellence that will catch an admissions officer’s eye. Their “Research Mentorship Program” will match you “with a researcher from a top institution, such as Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, and MIT” with the goal of developing a college-level research project that’s “a meaningful addition” to one’s application. It also includes 10 mentoring sessions and help getting the work published or presented at a conference. Be forewarned, though—the program is only available to people in the Premier and Elite plans.
Private college counselors are more than happy to “edit” your college essay. Maddeningly, but unsurprisingly, when a team of researchers led by the sociologist AJ Alvero studied 240,000 essays submitted to the University of California, they found that their content and style were even more strongly correlated with household income than SAT scores. “I don’t think it’s possible to imagine a universe in which some of those students didn’t have help with their essays,” Alvero told me.
Underlying Alvero’s intuition is the rapid proliferation of college counselors. 30 years ago, fewer than 100 people worked as full-time educational consultants. Today, Mark Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, puts that number at greater than 8,000. One reason for this is that the Common Application—which allows students to apply to many schools at once—has driven down admission rates. In 1940, Harvard accepted 85% of applicants. In the 1970, the acceptance rate was 20%. Last year, for the class of 2026, it was just 3.2%.
“Part of the reason anxiety is off the charts is the decision-making in colleges has become so opaque,” Sklarow explains. “We see that parents are willing to do just about anything.”
The Hill looks at the "new normal" of test optional admissions, including a steep drop in the percentage of students using the Common App who are submitting test scores.
Fewer than half of the students who applied early to college this fall submitted standardized test scores, according to an analysis by the nonprofit that publishes the Common Application.
The data point could mark a watershed moment in admissions, college advisers say, when a pandemic pause in SAT and ACT testing requirements evolved into something more permanent.
Just three years ago, 78 percent of applicants included test scores in their early Common App submissions, a round of admissions that ends Nov. 1.
The share of applicants reporting SAT or ACT scores plunged in 2020, as COVID-19 shuttered testing sites and drove hundreds of colleges to adopt “test-optional” admissions.
Many observers expected the testing requirement to return as restrictions lifted. It hasn’t.
“We’ve actually seen an increase in the share of colleges on the Common App that don’t require a test score,” said Preston Magouirk, senior manager of research and analytics at Common App.
More than 1,800 colleges are “test-optional” this year, including most elite public and private campuses, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest.
Common App data shows that only 4 percent of colleges require test scores for applications this fall, down from 55 percent in pre-pandemic 2019. The group includes a handful of technical universities and Florida’s state university system.
Any number of schools could revert to requiring test scores. But admissions experts don’t believe they will.
“I think it’s harder to go back,” said Jed Applerouth, founder of Applerouth Tutoring Services in Atlanta. “When you go test-optional, you have the freedom to build the class you want to build.”
Experts see little downside. By accepting test scores but not requiring them, a selective college often finds that its SAT and ACT averages go up, because students with lower scores don’t submit them.
Admission consultants say test-optional policies free an institution to enroll more economically disadvantaged students, or more affluent “full-pay” students, whose parents cover the full cost of attendance, all without regard to test scores.
“If they want, they can increase diversity,” Applerouth said. “If they want, they can increase full-pay. Why would you give that up?”
The leaders of FairTest and other equity advocates cheer the test-optional trend.
“Any time spent preparing for the SAT or ACT is time spent not reading a novel, time not spent playing the guitar,” said Harry Feder, executive director of FairTest. “I think it’s a waste of kids’ energy and time.”
Yet, admission statistics suggest some other schools prefer applicants who post scores.
[Wendy] Lubic, a partner in The College Lady, a Washington, D.C., consultancy, cites Boston College. The school’s overall admission rate is 17 percent. Boston College is test-optional. Its website promises that students who do not submit scores will “receive full consideration” in admissions. But school policy also notes, somewhat ominously, that those who do not send scores “will have one less credential to be considered by the Admission Committee.”
To Lubic, the numbers speak for themselves. For the current academic year, Boston College admitted 25 percent of applicants with test scores and 10 percent of those without.
The University of Virginia provides another case study. In the last round of admissions, students without test scores made up 42 percent of applicants but only 26 percent of admissions.
“Amherst, Barnard, Boston College, Boston University, you can see that they actively prefer scores,” Lubic said. “They have actually told people what the admit rate is for students who submit scores, and what the admit rate is for students who don’t submit scores.” The second number, she said, is invariably lower.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of a swamp,” she said. “Nothing is confirmed.”
On the future of standardized testing, “I think California will continue to drive a lot of the discussion,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost for enrollment management at Oregon State University.
California’s university system dropped standardized tests from admissions in 2021, a dramatic step affecting several of the nation’s most prestigious public campuses.
“I know College Board continues to campaign quietly in the state to get the public universities to reinstate the tests,” Boeckenstedt said. “And if they do, that would be a game changer.”
Akil Bello and Harry Feder of FairTest dive into the impact of test optional admissions on student behavior and expectations.
“There was a misconception that the number you get determines where you’d go to college,” said Star-Angel Oppong, a senior at Freedom High School in Virginia, who is currently applying to colleges. “The test instilled a lot of fear in me that I would not be successful without doing well on it.”
Test optional has changed that.
The widespread adoption of these policies has created more opportunity. Students who might have been deterred from applying to certain schools simply because of scores below the published averages of that school are now applying without worrying about scores.
Amily Sylla, a first-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University, said, “It was a relief to not have to take a test and to not have the test be the reason why you didn’t get into college.” Having seen the challenges her sister faced the previous year preparing for and taking the SAT, Ms. Sylla was happy to forgo the preparation and testing process and spend her time focusing on more important things.
The smoother pathway created can be seen in data from Common App, the organization that runs a popular application by the same name used by over 900 colleges. Common App members have seen an increase in applications of more than 20 percent since the 2019-2020 application season, with the greatest increase coming from underrepresented students.
Even more dramatic than the growth in applications is the drop in scores submitted. In 2022, only 5 percent of Common App member schools required SAT or ACT tests to be submitted, and only 48 percent of applicants submitted scores.
But while these new policies decrease barriers for many, change can increase uncertainty. Some students and their supporters feel more uncertain about being able to predict the outcome of the admission process.
This nervousness is especially pronounced among those who have long relied on presenting test scores as the “key” to admissions and scholarships. Test makers, test prep companies, and independent college counselors have contributed to the anxiety by stoking fears, despite the assurances of colleges, that not testing creates a disadvantage in either admissions or access to scholarships, even at colleges that are test optional.
According to Ericka M. Jackson, Senior Director of Undergraduate Admissions for Wayne State University, “Many students and parents didn’t trust that they would really get a fair evaluation if they didn’t submit a test score. As college admissions offices, we spent a lot of time during that first test-optional admissions cycle explaining what test optional means at our institution and reassuring students, counselors, and parents that students would not be disadvantaged if they applied test optional.”
Since 2020, test publishers College Board and ACT have become particularly aggressive about marketing their tests as the key to “standing out” in the application process, suggesting that taking the test is intrinsic to securing admissions and “merit” scholarships.
Candice Mackey, a college counselor at Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, said that “although all Cal-States and UCs are test-free, my students and families are ‘programmed’ for testing. It’s actually a little difficult at times to convince them otherwise that test-optional means optional.”
Making matters worse is the national media’s focus on highly rejective colleges, which make up less than 4 percent of colleges. News reports and prep company advertisements hyper-focus on scores as the reason for admission or rejection, even though these institutions almost always review applications holistically, considering many factors beyond test scores. This causes families to put undue misplaced pressure on testing.
Even in California, where public universities will not look at test scores even if submitted, the legacy of having required scores for 50 years casts a shadow on the current process. Mackey notes that “there is a lot of re-educating, explaining, and reframing what test-optional means and how testing factors into admissions.”
Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed examines a recent move by 11 elite law schools to stop submitting data to US News for its rankings, and wonders if undergraduate colleges will eventually follow suit.
The question in the admissions world right now is fairly simple: Will the moves by leading law schools against the rankings of U.S. News & World Report spread to undergraduate institutions?
Eleven law schools, most recently at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington, have announced that they will stay out of the rankings. The first law school to announce that it was dropping out was Yale University, which has been the top-ranked law school by U.S. News since it started the rankings more than 30 years ago. But in the last week, two law schools, at Cornell University and the University of Chicago, announced that they would continue to participate with the rankings.
Most colleges are not talking about the undergraduate rankings right now.
Lee H. Melvin, vice provost for enrollment management at the University at Buffalo, said he didn’t expect institutions to act, at least not now.
“Undergraduate institutions with strong reputational swagger might convince their trustees to pull out of delivering data to the U.S. News organization,” he said. “However, I honestly believe that any movement on a large scale would require a massive cultural shift to remove referencing of college rankings from our general dialogue and public psyche.”
U.S. News, however, is not planning to abandon its rankings. A spokeswoman said Friday, “Our focus is on the students and how we can best provide comparative information that allows them to assess all institutions equally. We will continue to pursue our journalistic mission of ensuring that students can rely on the best and most accurate information, using the rankings as one factor in their school search.”
David Hawkins, chief education and policy officer at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said via email, “The fact that high-profile law schools are walking away from the rankings constitutes a potentially important step toward ‘unilateral disarmament,’ so to speak. Many institutions, whether law schools or undergraduate institutions, have heretofore been hesitant to step away for fear of the negative effects. Such effects include, but are not limited to, actions that U.S. News could take to ‘estimate’ data and blowback from institutional stakeholders, such as boards, state legislators, or alumni if there is a perceived drop in prestige. These law schools may have signaled to all institutions that with enough alignment at the institutional level, colleges can step away if they do not benefit from either the rankings themselves or the methods used to compile the rankings.”
The SAT essay has been abandoned by the College Board for nationwide test dates, but some states (such as Michigan) still require the SAT with essay for their students tested on SAT School Day. However, Michigan might remove the requirement when the new legislative year begins. Illinois also requires the essay portion of the SAT.
Here are some test optional announcements:
--Tufts University has announced an extension of its current test optional policy for another three years (through the fall class of 2026).
--The University of Maryland will remain test optional through 2025.
--Several colleges on Long Island (Molloy, Adelphi, SUNY) are considering a permanent test optional policy.