Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Sep 19, 2023

Higher Ed Dive looks at the recent approval of a new test in Florida as an alternative to the SAT and ACT:


Florida’s public university system on Friday authorized use of an SAT and ACT alternative, the Classic Learning Test, in admissions, raising questions about the suitability of a Christian-focused exam in state institutions.

The decision furthers Gov. Ron DeSantis’ conservative vision for higher education. He has made remodeling public education part of his political identity amid his 2024 presidential campaign, spearheading a ban on diversity spending in state colleges and installing right-wing voices to the board of liberal arts institution New College of Florida.

Florida is the only state thus far to allow its public colleges to accept Classic Learning Test, or CLT, which has mostly been used by religious colleges. But the move implies further seismic shifts in the admissions world. Those have included the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against race-conscious policies this summer, and the diminishing dominance of the College Board, which administers the SAT and has had run-ins with DeSantis.

The Florida system’s governing board greenlit use of the CLT during its Friday meeting. The decision takes effect immediately.

Only one board member, University of Florida professor Amanda Phalin, spoke out against the concept.

Phalin said she did not outright oppose the CLT or its subject matter, but worried the board didn’t have proof the test was reliable.

“We do not have empirical evidence that this assessment is of the same quality as the ACT and SAT,” Phalin said.

NPR has additional details regarding the Classic Learning Test, including concerns expressed by The College Board and ACT, Inc. regarding its validity as an indicator of college readiness:


The CLT is two hours, about an hour shorter than the SAT and ACT. It's taken online and divided into three sections — verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and grammar and writing. The essay portion of the test is optional.

In a practice test provided by the CLT, passages are used from Plato's The Republic, Cicero's On Friendship and Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ.

The CLT calls itself a more "more rigorous and comprehensive measure" than the SAT and ACT. But organizations behind both tests say otherwise.

The College Board, which oversees the SAT, said there is little evidence proving the CLT can adequately assess college preparedness. It specifically pointed out that in a CLT practice test, a quarter of math questions appeared "below high school grade level" and statistics concepts were not tested.

When asked about the lack of statistics concepts in the CLT, Tate said the CLT simply does not test in concepts that require a calculator, unlike the SAT.

The College Board also took issue with the CLT's study, which found that the CLT's standards for college readiness were on par with the SAT's. The College Board argued that it was not involved in the study and therefore could not validate the results. In response to College Board's concerns, the CLT said it reviewed its study and stood firm on its findings.

The ACT also told NPR that it was uncertain how its test compares to the CLT because there has been no formal study on the two.

Akil Bello of FairTest weighs in on Florida's approval of the Classic Learning Test:


What is new in the adoption of the CLT is how blatantly its proponents have shown that their support of this test is guided by belief and ideology.

CLT board members have publicly stated that this test is a “Christian and classic” alternative. It’s not surprising that a board that includes Chris Rufo, MarkBauerlein, Erika Donalds, and others either directly or ideologically aligned with right-wing group PragerU (not a university) and Hillsdale College would equate older, whiter authors to a “Christian tradition.”

Company founder and former SAT prep tutor Jeremy Tate seems to avoid directly referencing Christianity, but does claim that his test’s intent is to change curriculum by creating a test that includes content he would rather schools teach.

Tate also claims that “the SAT/ACT neglect the great philosophical and theological traditions.” But this contention is somewhat suspect given that an analysis of authors on the small percent of official SAT tests publicly available showed that at least 15% of the passages were from the authors on the CLT list.

Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, and Benjamin Franklin are all on the CLT’s author list and have appeared on the SAT. Even a passage by Pope Leo XIII has appeared, which is not on the CLT’s list but would seem to meet their criteria of being old, European, and theological.

By approving the CLT, Florida’s powers-that-be are signaling they care more about belief in what the test might do, rather than the actuality of what it’s shown to do.

There is no evidence that the CLT, which Tate claims he created with one other person, is either more accurate, more fair, improves education, or tests anything truly different than the SAT or ACT. There is evidence that it has been marketed to a particular subset of politicians, and they aren’t interested in asking any questions.

A simple translation of the research and marketing of the CLT amounts to “since about 40% of test questions draw from whiter, older authors, the test is better and will drive curriculum towards whatever a classic education is.”

At best, it’s not different. At worst, it’s a cosplay of the SAT from the 1990s. The acceptance of this test by Florida reveals that the idea of standardized tests is one of rigorous quantitative measures but the history and reality of test design, selection, and use has been anything but.

An Inside Higher Ed feature examines the responses of colleges and universities to its annual survey:


Only 3 percent of respondents said their institution requires standardized test scores to be submitted, down from 7 percent in 2022. Forty-four percent of the remainder said they adopted test-optional or test-blind policies recently, after the pandemic, which forced the majority of colleges to at least temporarily eschew such requirements.

Of those who made the switch to test optional, the vast majority are pleased with the decision: 74 percent said it was a positive experience, and 92 percent said they would support remaining optional.

[Chief education and policy officer at the National Association for College Admission Counseling David] Hawkins said the movement toward test optional had already gained considerable ground in the years preceding the pandemic, but the crisis forced many colleges to take the extra step. Now, he said, test-optional policies seem nearly as entrenched in higher education as standardized test requirements were in the early 2010s.

“There was a lot of concern early on about convincing stakeholders that test optional was the way to go,” Hawkins said. “The pandemic really circumvented the need for those conversations and proved to everyone that admissions can go on pretty much unabated without the tests.”

If the pandemic accelerated the shift to test optional, the affirmative action decision may bury it for good: 65 percent of survey respondents whose institutions recently changed to test-optional or test-blind admissions indicated that they admitted more Black, Latino and Native American applicants after adopting those policies.

In an article on Politico titled "Why Won’t Elite Colleges Deploy the One Race-Neutral Way to Achieve Diversity?", the author examines the pros and cons of significantly increasing the number of poor students admitted to selective colleges:


There’s only one race-neutral method that would work to increase racial diversity on selective college campuses, and it happens to align with the supposed social-justice goals of highly selective schools: giving a clearly defined, substantial boost to low-income applicants. Neither the University of Michigan nor the University of California embraced that method, and so far, it seems likely that no other university will try it either.

Why would schools ignore a winning alternative? Embracing that method would make their student bodies slightly less academically elite (in terms of grades and test scores). It’s also a bit more expensive. But most problematically, giving a large, well-advertised boost to low-income students reduces their precious, complex and labor-intensive “holistic” admissions process to a simple bunch of pluses and minuses. And they won’t have that.

According to Richard Kahlenberg — a former fellow at the progressive The Century Foundation, and then an expert witness on the side of Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard — the Ivy League school could achieve its diversity goals with a few simple measures: End preferences for legacies and applicants with exceptionally rich, potential donor parents. Instead, provide a boost (half the size that recruited athletes get) to students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

For Kahlenberg, this possible solution — that low-income applicants just get a leg up the way Black applicants (or recruited athletes or legacies) have gotten one — has long animated his distaste for affirmative action, telling me that he thinks “the decision will be a win for low-income and working-class students of all races.”

This fact — that colleges could get more underrepresented students by preferring more disadvantaged students of all races — is what led Kahlenberg to tell me confidently that “we’ll see universities give a more meaningful admissions boost to economically disadvantaged students of all races.”

“The kids are out there. And you’d have to find them.” That’s what the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Anthony Carnevale, told me about the challenges of locating qualified Black, Latino and Indigenous (all referred to as “underrepresented minorities” in the admissions community) applicants whom schools would need to recruit to fulfill diversity goals.

But schools may not be so eager to pursue this.

For one, it would hurt their average academic credentials. The Georgetown simulation showed that the median SAT score at the most selective 193 schools would drop from 1240 to 1210 and the median high school GPA would fall from 4.03 to 3.92. Kahlenberg’s Harvard simulation showed SAT scores at Harvard dropping from 99th percentile to 98th percentile, leading Cameron Norris, the lawyer for Students for Fair Admissions, to tell Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “That’s moving Harvard from Harvard to Dartmouth. Dartmouth is still a great school.”

Another issue is cost. Letting in more poor students means letting in more poor students, and while elite schools can easily cover increased financial aid, not all selective schools could do so without having to dip into their endowments or raise more money, which, according to Carnevale, they are not going to do. “In the end,” he said, “the business model governs.”

A “holistic” admissions practice makes the whole thing easy because it gives admissions officials the leeway to accept students to satisfy different goals to different degrees, and nobody needs to know which students are fulfilling which goal, and officials never have to articulate which of the goals is more important.

Elite schools don’t want to participate in a system where all they get to do is select the smartest possible future leaders, and they don’t want a simple formula giving a well-defined boost to low-income students. They want to pick and choose students using their own criteria and they want not to be challenged about who gets in and why.

And when affirmative action has been taken away from elite schools in the past, they stick to that script and make only small tweaks to the whole process, retaining the confusing morass of admissions while only marginally adjusting the process to make it easier to take the kids they favor for whatever secret reason. The UCs no longer consider test scores at all, further slimming the chance that we ever have any idea how they select the students upon which to spend their $47 billion of public money.

It has been known for years that the College Board sells student information gathered during SAT exams and website visits to colleges and universities for marketing purposes. Now,Gizmodo offers proof that SAT scores and Student GPAs garnered during student visits to the College Board website are being shared with online companies:


Many students have no choice about working with the College Board, the company that administers the SAT test and Advanced Placement exams. Part of that relationship involves a long history of privacy issues. Tests by Gizmodo found that if you use some of the handy search tools promoted by College Board’s website, the organization sends details about SAT scores, GPAs, and other data to Facebook, TikTok, and a variety of other companies.

Gizmodo observed the College Board’s website sharing data with Facebook and TikTok when a user fills in information about their GPA and SAT scores. When this reporter used the College Board’s search filtering tools to find colleges that might accept a student with a C+ grade-point average and a SAT score of 420 out of 1600, the site let the social media companies know. Whether a student is acing their tests or struggling, Facebook and TikTok get the details.

The College Board shares this data via “pixels,” invisible tracking technology used to facilitate targeted advertising on platforms such as Facebook and TikTok. The data is shared along with unique user IDs to identify the students, along with other information about how you use the College Board’s site.

Organizations use pixels and other tools to share data so they can send targeted ads to people who use their apps and websites on other platforms, such as Google, Facebook, and TikTok.

“We do not share SAT scores or GPAs with Facebook or TikTok, and any other third parties using pixels or cookies,” said a College Board spokesperson. “In fact, we do not send any personally identifiable information (PII) through our pixels on the site. In addition, we do not use SAT scores or GPAs for any targeting.”

After receiving this comment, Gizmodo shared a screenshot of the College Board sending GPAs and SAT scores to TikTok using a pixel. The spokesperson then acknowledged that the College Board’s website actually does share data about the GPAs students report, along with the SAT ranges students use for searches.

The spokesperson stressed that no personally identifiable information is shared using pixels or cookies. Our tests didn’t show the College Board sharing information like names or phone numbers, which fall in the category of personal info. However, pixels and cookies typically contain unique strings of letters and numbers meant to identify and track users. For years, experts have argued and demonstrated this poses privacy risks and is far from anonymous.

However, many privacy advocates have argued the College Board and companies which handle data about students and minors should be held to a higher standard—especially when many of these services are all but mandatory in the American education system.

The College Board has a long and troubled history when it comes to student privacy. In 2018 and 2019, the organization was caught selling data about students, including the names of SAT test takers, for as little as 47 cents a piece. An investigation in 2020 by this reporter found similar data sharing practices, in which the College Board told Google, Facebook, and numerous other companies about nearly everything you did on the company’s website.

At the time, this violated explicit commitments the College Board made to users, including the “Student Privacy Pledge,” a voluntary commitment between education technology companies. By signing the pledge, the College Board promised not to “use or disclose student information collected through an educational/school service (whether personal information or otherwise) for behavioral targeting of advertisements to students.”

Since then, the College Board appears to have scrubbed references to the Student Privacy Pledge from its website and is no longer listed as a signatory.

Due to recent events such as the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, as well as the widespread adoption of test optional policies, Brown University has formed a committee to consider changes to its admissions policies.


Amid national conversations about access in higher education, Brown University President Christina H. Paxson has appointed a committee to examine the University’s admissions practices to ensure they align with Brown’s stated commitments to excellence, access and diversity.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Admissions Policies, composed of senior faculty and alumni members of Brown’s highest governing body, the Corporation of Brown University, will examine three areas of admissions policy and practice: whether Brown should alter its current policy on Early Decision; whether Brown should require standardized test scores or sustain its interim “test-optional” policy; and whether preferences for applicants with family connections should be modified.

Brown currently offers an Early Decision opportunity to applicants that allows them to apply early and requires a commitment to accepting an offer of admission if accepted. For the examination of the test-optional policy, the committee will assess the impact of Brown’s suspension of its standardized test scores requirement ahead of the 2020-21 application cycle. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University implemented a test-optional policy that gave applicants the choice of whether to submit test scores with their application.

The committee’s evaluation of students with family connections to Brown will encompass a range of data, including admissions and outcomes data for applicants with “legacy status,” defined at Brown as applicants for whom one or both parents went to college at the University.

The committee will make a recommendation to the president and the Corporation before the start of the Spring 2024 semester, in advance of next year’s admissions cycle.

US News has announced that it has made significant changes to its methodology used to calculate its Best Colleges rankings. However, standardized test scores still account for 5% of the rankings metric.