Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update
Feb 27, 2023
Jon Boeckenstedt has written a piece for Slate in which he advises, "The Sooner We Start Thinking of the College Board as a Business, the Better."
If you’re a boomer like I am, and especially if you grew up on the East or West Coast, you have probably always been aware of the College Board. For us, it was just the company that created and administered the teenage rite of passage, the SAT (which was then called the Scholastic Aptitude Test but has now been rebranded as simply “SAT”).
And that’s probably all you thought about the College Board, if you thought about it at all: a fairly innocuous entity that seemed to be focused on the test that largely determined who went to college, and where they went to college. Was it run by the government? Was it a charity? Who knew? Who cared?
The reality might surprise you.
Over the years, the College Board used its connections with high schools to expand the penetration of the PSAT, as a companion to the SAT; it uses the PSAT to collect names and information about students, which it then licenses to colleges who want to recruit those students as the de facto national database of high school students; it uses the results of the tests (for which half the students and half the school districts will, by definition, be below average) to promote its AP courses, to make students more “college ready” (an essentially meaningless term it invented); and it uses its substantial lobbying budget to convince legislators to make students take the SAT in order to graduate from high school, to pay for AP, and to make public universities accept the results of those exams and grant credit for them.
It’s an ingenious business model. And in America, businesses have the right to operate, as long as they don’t run afoul of the law. But like any business, the College Board should be held accountable for faults in its products and especially for public activities that contradict its mission.
When David Coleman was hired as president and CEO of the College Board in 2012, it was a business decision. As a leader of the effort to create and license Common Core, Coleman was part of the attempt to instill a national curriculum in K–12 schools, which is of course not necessarily a bad idea; one of the best and worst things about American secondary education is its widely divergent models and philosophies.
The great business opportunity at the time was to connect the SAT to Common Core. At last, it was believed, America would have a way of telling how well its students were learning. Never mind, of course, that all of this power and responsibility would be held in the boardroom of a private company that would have profited greatly from the connection to a national curriculum. (If one corporation could influence the curriculum and also create the tool used to measure achievement, school districts and states would have little choice but to use—and increase the use of—its products.) Alas, fate had other ideas, and Common Core quickly fell out of favor in the U.S. with both the left and the right—perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps because people had concerns about such intensely focused control in the hands of one company. Or, it might be said, in the hands of one man.
The College Board is a billion-dollar business, with over a billion dollars in assets (including as much as $150 million held in offshore accounts). It paid Coleman, its CEO, over $2.5 million in 2020, even after he had been demoted from the dual roles of president and CEO in early 2019, and paid several other executives over $500,000 in that same year, a year in which revenue dropped by $400 million.
It is no wonder that there have been frequent and repeated calls for the trustees of the College Board to remove Coleman from his position. Leadership comes with responsibilities that Coleman has clearly ignored or neglected.
Universities, too, of course, are not-for-profits, as are legitimate charities. It is not the tax status that should concern us, although perhaps a tax on some of that revenue would be warranted in the case of the College Board. What should concern us is that a private company has its tentacles so tightly wrapped around a public education system most Americans consider a public good
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has permanently revoked its SAT/ACT eligibility requirement for Division I and II student-athletes:
Historically, first-year players who want to practice, compete and receive athletic financial aid in the top two sports divisions must earn a minimum SAT or ACT score.
Athletes’ high school GPA determines the qualifying score — the higher a student’s GPA, the lower their required score will need to be.
However, as COVID-19 struck the world, the NCAA waived the testing requirement. Many places where students usually take the SAT or ACT had shut down, limiting students’ access to the exams.
These restrictions prompted institutions to loosen entrance exam mandates. And though pandemic-era restrictions have since been scaled back, many colleges preserved test-optional policies in their general undergraduate admissions process.
Because some colleges have stepped away from admissions testing, NCAA officials felt the same standards should apply to athlete eligibility, Lynda Tealer, executive associate athletics director at the University of Florida and chair of the Division I Council, said in a statement.
The Division I Council, one of the NCAA’s governing bodies, voted to end standardized testing requirements at the association’s annual meeting in January. Division II representatives separately did the same at the meeting.
Athletes may still need to take the SAT or ACT for colleges that have not dropped their own testing requirements for general admissions. Some athletics scholarships also require test scores.
The Washington Examiner takes a look at the recent history and current status of test optional US colleges:
According to FairTest, an anti-standardized test advocacy group that tracks the number of colleges requiring test scores for admission, 1,075, or 47%, of the nation's 2,278 bachelor's degree-granting institutions had moved to a so-called test-optional admissions application prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number that has now ballooned to 1,839, or nearly 81% of all colleges and universities.
For the fall of 2021, 1,775 colleges moved to test-optional admissions, a number that jumped to 1,835 in 2022 and 1,839 for the fall of 2023, even as the pandemic began to recede and SAT testing schedules resumed as normal. Currently, FairTest says 1,460 institutions have moved permanently to test-optional admissions.
Jeremy Tate, the founder and CEO of the Classic Learning Test, an alternative college entrance exam, said in an interview with the Washington Examiner that while 80% of colleges are still operating on test-optional admissions, he expects a number of colleges to return to the old format of requiring standardized test scores.
"It has gone as far as it's going to go," Tate said of the move toward test-optional admissions. "Now, there is a very slow moving back, but it will never go back to what it was."
Akil Bello of Fairtest examines the ongoing controversy regarding Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the College Board, and African American Studies Advanced Placement course and exam:
In what could be a scene from a Jordan Peele movie, the past week has seen two white men debating how and why to teach the history of Black people in America. The latest attack on the study of African American history was brought on by the College Board’s latest narcissistic attempt to control American education.
Rather than celebrating the forthcoming launch of a historic Advanced Placement (AP) course exploring the Black experience in America, prominent Black studies scholars spent much of the first week of February defending the College Board from claims that they have erased Black history to appease the ego of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
In the summer of 2021, the College Board’s Trevor Packer, head of the AP Program, promised to “introduce a new generation of students to the amazingly rich cultural, artistic, and political contributions of African Americans.”
The announcement of the one-of-a-kind AP that finally included the Black experience had set the expectation that the College Board would have learned from its AP World History experience and been prepared to nurture and protect the new course to ensure its seamless rollout.
Unfortunately, the College Board hadn’t learned from the past. And, once again, the collateral damage of the College Board’s decisions will primarily fall on Black students, Black scholars, and other Black Americans.
As the early pilot classes began, right-wing media politicians have become increasingly vocal in their objections to elements of the program, culminating with DeSantis declaring that AP African American Studies “lacks educational value.”
One might have expected the organization to stand up with a full-throated denunciation of the racist rhetoric that not only attacked the scholars who worked on the course but attacked the idea that there is a uniquely Black experience that should be studied. One might have expected an educational organization to defend the educational value of African American studies.
But the College Board isn’t an educational organization. The College Board isn’t an agent of change. The College Board is a test publisher interested in one thing: selling.
The $1 billion nonprofit’s actions consistently demonstrate a greater interest in selling its products at all costs, and often on the backs of the most marginalized Americans. Even before the Florida controversy, there have been a litany of events that should make all Americans seriously question whether the College Board is a responsible and trustworthy steward, whether it puts the public good first, and whether it’s working in the interest of the children whose future and data is in its hands.
Yale University is expected to announce its decision shortly regarding whether it will continue its current optional SAT/ACT testing policy, or reinstate its previous testing requirement.
Yale Admissions is expected to announce whether or not it will once again require applicants to submit standardized test scores this spring.
Due to public health concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Yale first adopted a test-optional policy in 2020 for those applying to the class of 2025. For both application cycles since — including the round currently in-progress — Yale renewed this policy due to limited testing availability, particularly abroad.
Each of these decisions were made on a year-to-year basis. But as testing access returns to pre-pandemic levels, the admissions office previously said it would release a longer-term decision in the winter of 2023. However, according to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan, the decision is now slated for the spring.
“Because we are still in the process of gathering and analyzing data, and we are still actively in conversation with university leaders, we have pushed our announcement timeline back,” Quinlan wrote to the News. “We want to ensure we are making this policy with the best available data, and that we can invest the time in communicating our policy and the reasons for it when we’ve arrived at a decision in the next few months.”
In April of 2021, the Yale News first reported that test-optional policies are one factor leading to the record-setting spike in applicants to the classes of 2025, 2026 and 2027.
Though the admissions office does not draw conclusive causal relationships between specific policy changes and applicant pool demographics, over these three cycles, the waived testing requirement has been linked to an increase in international applicants and greater racial diversity in the pool overall. These trends have continued through the current application cycle.
“Comparing this year’s first-year applicant pool with the group of students who applied in the 2019-2020 cycle, the overall applicant pool has grown by 49% whereas the pool of applicants from abroad has more than doubled,” wrote Mark Dunn ’07, the senior associate director for outreach and recruitment at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. “It is clear that removing the ACT or SAT requirement has lowered barriers for applicants from abroad and encouraged more students to apply.”
Penn State's announcement that it is extending its test optional policy for two more years contains some interesting quotes and statistics.
“One intent of an extension is to continue the standardized testing relief to students. There was already anxiety about tests before the pandemic. Covid-19 added even more stressors and changed college admissions,” said a statement from Rob Springall, assistant vice president for Enrollment Management and executive director of Undergraduate Admissions at Penn State.
“Two more years will also give Penn State the benefit of time to see what has permanently changed and how we can do our work even better,” he added. “We are making this announcement now so current high school juniors and sophomores can make their college application and testing plans.”
The university says that since it went test optional, more than half of its undergraduate applicants have applied without using their SAT or ACT scores.
FairTest’s list also shows that more than 1,450 colleges and universities have made their test-optional and test-blind policies permanent. Ninety more have extended them at least through the fall 2024 admissions cycle. That covers current high school juniors.
“Admissions without test-scores is the “new normal” for this generation of college applicants,” concluded FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer when the group last updated its test-optional list.
If the U.S. Supreme Court, as many expect, is poised to strike down the use of affirmative action in admission this spring, then schools may look at testing rules anew as they ponder ways to keep their classes diverse, Harry Feder, FairTest’s executive director, said Monday. “I think test optional is here to stay.”
Florida governor Ron DeSantis has suggested that the state might look for alternatives to the Advanced Placement and SAT exams offered by the College Board:
Tens of thousands of Florida high school students take Advanced Placement courses every year to have a competitive edge heading into college.
Now, Gov. Ron DeSantis says he wants to reevaluate the state’s relationship with the College Board, the private company that administers those courses and the SAT exam. And that has some high school students worried.
“I don’t see how I could have gotten ahead without them,” said Eli Rhoads, a senior at Pasco County’s Mitchell High School, who said AP courses helped him get a full scholarship to the University of Alabama. “You almost have to have these courses to stand out.”
DeSantis has not made clear exactly what he plans to change, but his remarks come after the College Board on Saturday accused his administration of playing politics when it rejected its new Advanced Placement African-American studies course over allegations that it “lacks educational value.”
“This College Board, like, nobody elected them to anything,” DeSantis said at a news conference Monday in Naples. “They are just kind of there, and they provide a service and so you can either utilize those services or not.”
While DeSantis acknowledged the College Board’s long-standing presence in the state, he said “there are probably other vendors who may be able to do that job as good or maybe even a lot better.”
A College Board spokesperson said the organization had no comment on the governor’s statements.
The dispute between the College Board and DeSantis is indicative of the Republican governor’s take-no-prisoners brand of politics. The board joins Walt Disney World in the ranks of companies the governor has wrangled with for not adopting conservative stances on education matters.
In 2021, nearly 200,000 Florida teens sat for more than 366,000 tests, for which they can earn college credit. It had the fifth highest rate of tests taken per 1,000 students in the nation.
The College Board also administers the SAT exam, which students may use to help them complete graduation testing requirements, earn entry into universities and become eligible for Bright Futures scholarships.
If the state were to move away from the College Board, though, other options exist.
Students seeking advanced courses leading to college credits have International Baccalaureate, Cambridge Programme and dual enrollment classes available. They also can take the ACT exam instead of the SAT.
Stella Tucker, another Mitchell High senior, will have taken 18 AP courses by the time she graduates in the top 10 of her class this spring. She said she finds the courses challenging academically — more reliably so than dual enrollment — while also preparing her for college.
She predicted a strong backlash from Florida teens if the governor and Legislature were to propose scaling back or eliminating AP courses.
“I think that would really put the students of Florida at a disadvantage,” Tucker said. Officials should “look more closely at what AP classes are doing for the students of the state of Florida and get their perspective. They’re the ones who would really be affected by all this.”
Florida students raised concerns about other aspects of the College Board during the height of the pandemic. They urged the state to change SAT exam requirements for state university admissions. But unlike most other states, the state did not back away from the mandate.
Lastly, from TIME magazine, a man in his 50s subjects himself to the trauma of re-taking the SAT.