Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Oct 01, 2023

Despite the nearly-universal adoption of test optional policies among US colleges and universities, the College Board's annual testing report indicates that 200,000 more students in the high school graduating class of 2023 took the SAT compared to the previous year. Slightly over 1.9 million 2023-graduating students took the SAT during high school. The report also highlights the increased participation in statewide SAT School Days. Here are excerpts from the related College Board press release:


The 2023 SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report released today shows that more than 1.9 million students in the high school class of 2023 took the SAT at least once, up from 1.7 million in 2022. A bigger share of test takers than ever—67%—took the SAT through SAT School Day. In a largely test-optional world, students still want the choice to send their scores. In fact, recent results from a nationally representative survey show that more than 80% of students from the class of 2022 want test scores to be part of college applications, either required or optional.

SAT School Day

Nearly 1.3 million students in the class of 2023 took the SAT through the SAT School Day program, which provides schools, districts, and states a way to offer the SAT to juniors and seniors in school, on a weekday, often at no cost to students. Independent research shows that universal school-day testing leads to higher college-going rates for low-income and underrepresented students. In the class of 2023, 67% of SAT takers took the SAT on a school day, the highest percentage to date, compared to 63% of the class of 2022, and 62% of the class of 2021. SAT School Day participation has increased more than 17% over the past year, up from roughly 1.1 million in the class of 2022.

“The continued growth of the SAT post-pandemic shows that students value and take the SAT to show what they’ve learned, to connect with scholarships and colleges, and to open doors to their post-high-school futures,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, senior vice president, College Readiness Assessments at College Board. “The SAT continues to be a valuable tool for students, educators, and higher education.”

Matt Notes: It's not surprising that the testing numbers were up for the class of 2023 due to the relative normalization of testing administration in 2023 and portions of 2022. In addition, the College Board is currently insulated from the impact of decreasing percentage of students (including admittees) submitting SAT scores to selective colleges and universities due to the enormous expansion of statewide SAT School Day testing. The use of SAT/ACT as a federal accountability test for high school achievement in many states also provides additional contractual protection. As test optional policies have increasingly incentivized students to take SAT/ACT tests with the idea of submitting their scores to certain colleges and not to others, student perception of the overall value of taking the tests remains strong. A negative reassessment of the continued value of the SAT/ACT by state departments of education (and/or a significant increase in the number of test-blind colleges) will probably be required before testing numbers experience a significant drop. [BTW, The high-water mark for SAT testing was 2.22 million students in 2019. The ACT (which has struggled in recent years, seeing its high school graduating testing cohort drop from 2.09 million in 2016 to 1.35 million in 2022) will release its 2023 testing report soon.]

A guest essay opinion piece in the New York Times titled "The SATs Will Be Different Next Year, and That Could Be a Game-Changer", the author considers the shorter duration and relaxed time considerations of the new digital SAT coming to the US next spring:


A few years ago, I started asking lecture halls filled with students to raise their hands if they had run out of time on the SAT. In each room, nearly every hand went up. I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.

For decades, educators have seen speed as a marker of aptitude or mastery, forcing students to scramble to finish tests. But a race against the clock doesn’t measure knowledge or intelligence. It assesses the much narrower skill of how well students reason under stress. As a result, timed tests underestimate the capabilities of countless students.

Strangely, though, the tests that define students’ grades and help determine their educational and professional fates are rarely designed for deliberation. They evaluate students as if they’re applying to join a bomb squad or appear on “Jeopardy.” Time pressure rewards students who think fast and shallow — and punishes those who think slow and deep.

It’s a delicious twist of irony, then, that the lifeboat to rescue us from the tyranny of time pressure is being piloted by the folks behind the mother of all standardized tests. I learned recently that the College Board has redesigned the SAT to minimize time pressure.

Historically, the SAT gave students “too much to cover and not enough time to do it,” the College Board’s chief executive officer, David Coleman, told me. But developing a digital version gave them the opportunity to experiment. And the results were so impressive they decided to stick with them. Starting next year, the test is shorter overall, and most importantly, “on average, 97 percent of students complete all questions in a section with up to seven minutes to spare on each section,” Mr. Coleman said. “It’s time we stop confusing quick with smart.”

This could be game-changing for teachers as well as students. If the dominant standardized test no longer creates time pressure, there’s less need to use a ticking clock on classroom quizzes and exams. I don’t expect students to start looking forward to tests, but they should be less likely to dread them. That will give them a better chance at putting their best foot forward. It will also give them a more realistic preview of what it takes to excel in the future.

Nick Anderson of The Washington Post examines the unusually dramatic shifts this year among the Best Colleges rankings published by US News due to changes in the publication's rankings methodology:


Many public universities rose in the undergraduate rankings U.S. News & World Report released Monday, while many private ones fell — a sign not of their changing quality but of the changing formula for an annual sorting ritual that in recent years has faced intensifying criticism.

Four of the six schools tied for 47th on the best national universities list illustrated the precipitous ups and downs. For public Virginia Tech, that marked a sudden 15-step climb from its ranking a year ago. Texas A&M University, also public, jumped 20 steps to reach 47th. But for the private University of Rochester, ranking at that level represented an 11-step decline. Wake Forest University, also private, fell 18 steps to land at that point.

Also tied at 47th were private Lehigh University and the public University of Georgia, but their rankings did not change much.

What led to the scramble was a shift in how U.S. News evaluates schools. It no longer considers class size or alumni giving, for example, but it has added a new factor that tracks the graduation rates of first-generation college students at national universities. As ever, the formula continues to rely heavily on a peer evaluation survey that critics say favors wealth and long-standing perceptions of prestige.

The U.S. News lists are a perennial object of chatter and fascination within higher education, prompting envy, scorn or shrugs, depending on the perspective of school leaders, alumni and students who monitor them.

Last fall and winter, many prominent law and medical schools that had grown fed up with the rankings announced they would no longer cooperate. Their revolt affected U.S. News lists of graduate and professional programs released in the spring. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona cheered them on.

“It’s time to stop worshiping at the false altar of U.S. News & World Report,” Cardona said in March. “It’s time to focus on what truly matters: delivering value and upward mobility.”

But most major colleges and universities did not follow suit at the undergraduate level. One exception was Columbia University, which announced in June that it would not cooperate with the U.S. News undergraduate rankings.

But even when schools decline to answer questions from U.S. News, the rankings publication uses publicly available information and continues to include them on its lists.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, which represents colleges and universities, said upheaval in the U.S. News lists showed the underlying problems with rankings. “It is ludicrous on its face that an individual institution could rise or fall by dozens of spots on a college rankings list in a single year,” Mitchell said in a statement. “But the U.S. News rankings released today are yet more evidence that rankings are not and never have been reliable indicators of quality.”

Inside Higher Ed also covers the US News rankings shakeup:


Christopher Newfield, a higher education scholar and the research director of the Independent Social Research Foundation in London, said U.S. News’s methodology changes don’t actually address the main criticisms leveled at the rankings. If anything, he said, they confuse consumers by melding metrics of social mobility with entirely unrelated factors like selectivity and graduation rates. The list also presents changes in rank as signs of improvement or backsliding when—as the Vanderbilt statement noted—the methodologies change frequently enough to render year-to-year comparisons meaningless.

The persistent problem with U.S. News’s rankings, Newfield continued, is that they sell colleges as products, defined either by prestige or employment returns, rather than as intellectually fortifying experiences.

“Now the product that’s being sold is social mobility,” he said. “That’s an improvement over status and prestige. But neither of those things are about the intellectual, nonpecuniary benefits of a college education.”

Not everyone agrees, however—regardless of whether they approve of the new rankings metrics. Most Americans are skeptical of the inherent value of a college education, according to a 2023 study, and reluctant to invest in a degree whose connection to employment seems more tenuous than ever.

Havidán Rodríguez, the president of the University of Albany (part of the State University of New York)—which rose 48 spots to land at No. 70 on the rankings list this year—said the change represents an important acknowledgment of the work institutions like his are doing to serve underprivileged students and connect them to the workforce.

“I’m not one to focus on rankings, but the changes this year tell a pretty compelling story about the mission of higher education,” he said. “U.S. News is finally catching up.”

Some institutions refuse to provide data to U.S. News as a form of protest of its rankings. Just last year, four undergraduate institutions announced they would no longer participate: Colorado College, the Rhode Island School of Design, Stillman College and Columbia University, which made the decision after a math professor found inconsistencies in the data submitted to the magazine.

In their statements regarding this year’s rankings, both Vanderbilt and Oberlin threatened to join that group of conscientious objectors, citing years of frustration exacerbated by the shifting metrics.

“These radical movements in ranking positions are more indicative of how arbitrary the U.S. News rankings are rather than an indicator of a change in quality,” wrote President Ambar of Oberlin. “Higher education should no longer allow U.S. News rankings to influence the narrative about college quality and excellence in the United States. We will continue to evaluate what this means for Oberlin’s future participation in the rankings.”

Vanderbilt’s leaders made a similar veiled threat, referencing Columbia’s decision to withdraw and saying they are “considering our next steps.” The university’s law school and medical school already withdrew from those U.S. News rankings lists, part of a much more robust protest among law schools and other professional graduate programs.

Inside Higher Ed looks at potential trouble (including layoffs) at ETS (Educational Testing Services), the company that once wrote the SAT, and still administers it:


Educational Testing Services, a pioneer of standardized testing and the longtime administrator of the SAT, is laying off 6 percent of its 2,500-plus employees, according to an internal video announcement from CEO Amit Sevak obtained by Inside Higher Ed earlier this week.

An ETS spokesperson confirmed the layoffs, which were announced this morning, and said their impact would be “global and company-wide,” affecting staff at both the central complex in Princeton, N.J., and at the company’s four satellite offices.

The spokesperson declined to give the exact number of employees who would be let go, but given the organization’s size, 6 percent would amount to around 150 people. It is at least the fifth round of layoffs at ETS in the past three years, judging from a 2021 article that detailed an earlier layoff announcement under the previous CEO.

In addition to administering the SAT—which is designed and owned by the College Board—ETS owns the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, the standard postbaccalaureate admissions exam, as well as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the primary exam used to assess international students’ preparedness for English-language programs in the U.S.

The layoffs, and the broader concerns about the organization’s financial sustainability and strategic planning, reflect a deeper turbulence shaking the standardized testing industry—of which ETS was a pioneering titan. It remains the largest private educational assessment organization in the world.

Akil Bello, senior director of advocacy and advancement at FairTest, which opposes testing requirements, said the normalization of test-optional admissions has had a demonstrable impact on the business models of test providers—especially those that haven’t adapted to the new landscape.

“It’s unquestioned that there have been significant rounds of layoffs at ACT, College Board and now ETS,” Bello said. “It’s not unreasonable to conclude that the undergraduate test-optional movement, as well as the GRE exit movement, has significantly impacted their bottom line.”

ETS has experienced its own series of changes, many of them detrimental to the bottom line. Founded in 1947 in partnership with the College Board to promote the use of the then nascent SAT, the organization has since lost contracts to administer popular tests like the LSAT and MCAT.

“ETS is particularly fascinating because they once owned the rights to administer and sell all these tests,” Bello said. “Since the ’90s, it has lost most of them one by one.”

In 2004, a minor schism between ETS and the College Board led the latter to shift from ETS to Pearson as its main test scorer; 10 years later, that rift deepened when the College Board opted to bring test development, formerly ETS’s purview, in house.

ETS’s contract with the College Board to administer the SAT is up for renewal next June. When asked via email whether it was likely to renew the partnership, a spokesperson for College Board said the company doesn’t comment on vendor relationships.

Stetson University in Florida has announced that it will accept the Classic Learning Test in lieu of SAT/ACT scores.


Along with public universities across the state, Stetson University now accepts test results from the Classic Learning Test in addition to the SAT and ACT standardized tests.

“Regarding admissions considerations, Stetson is test optional,” Stetson Senior Vice President for Enrollment and Marketing Jeffery Gates said in a statement. “Instead of requiring test scores, we allow students to showcase their skills, talents and abilities in a way that matters most to them, whether with a graded essay, or a test like the CLT, ACT and SAT.”

The test was recently added to a list of examinations that the university accepts as part of admissions for the 2024-25 school year, but, as of Sept. 10, the university has received no applications with a CLT test score. That decision came before the Board of Governors of Florida’s state university system ruled Sept. 9 that all public universities will accept test results from the CLT in addition to the SAT and ACT.

“The CLT assessment opens doors to Florida colleges and state universities,” a statement from the Board of Governors said. “The CLT places a strong emphasis on classical education, which includes a focus on reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. It is designed to align with a classical liberal arts curriculum, which some educators and institutions believe provides a more well-rounded and meaningful education.”