Matt’s Past SAT/ACT News Update:

Matt O'Connor

May 25, 2018

A bill called the "Pathways to College Act" is making its way through the California legislature, and may be voted on this month. [Update, May 30th: the bill has passed the California state Assembly, and is being sent to the state Senate]. Commencing with the 2020–21 school year, the bill would allow California school districts to give the SAT or ACT to all juniors in place of California's Common Core-aligned statewide high school test. The SAT/ACT would be administered during a school day at no charge to students. A San Diego TV interview regarding the bill can be seen here.

Florida's State Board of Education has enacted tougher high school graduation rules that will kick in next year. The current option of substituting a score on an alternative test (the Post-secondary Education Readiness Test) will be eliminated for students who fail to attain the required score on Florida's statewide exams, and the required SAT/ACT scores needed to meet graduation benchmarks will be raised. Under the new rule, beginning with students in the high school class of 2022, students who fail the statewide algebra exam would have to score at least 16 out of 36 on the ACT math section, 420 out of 800 on SAT math, or 430 out of 760 on the PSAT math section.

Those who didn’t pass the Florida Standards Assessments' language arts exam would need to score 18 on ACT reading and English, or at least 480 on the SAT critical reading and writing section.

However, there has been some criticism of the new requirements:


Educators and students asked the board not to make the changes, saying they will keep some teenagers from graduating. In Seminole County, for example, about 430 fewer students would graduate this month from district high schools if the new rules already were in place, they said.

Catherine Gewertz of Education Week has written an article addressing the controversy over states and school districts sharing student data with the College Board and ACT, Inc., which may violate federal law.


School districts that administer the SAT or ACT to all students are getting a bracing warning from the U.S. Department of Education: They must take steps to protect students' personal information, or risk running afoul of federal privacy laws.

The warning came in the form of guidance issued Wednesday by the department's Privacy Technical Assistance Center. The 11-page document takes on two practices: how districts sign students up for the college-admissions exams, and how they handle the pre-test surveys that accompany the ACT and SAT.

The pre-test surveys explore a wide range of topics, including students' academic interests, extracurricular activities, and religious affiliations. Those surveys are entirely voluntary, but that's often not clear to students and their families, the new guidance says. (You can see the SAT's survey here, and the ACT's survey here.)

"We have heard from teachers and students ... that the voluntary nature of these pre-test surveys is not well understood," the document says. Additionally, many students think they must answer every question, and opting out isn't that easy: It requires the student to "affirmatively indicate in response to multiple questions that the student does not wish to provide the information," the guidance says.

There are a few exceptions to the privacy protections in FERPA and IDEA that could allow districts to provide students' information to the testing companies, the guidance says. But they might well need parental permission to address the part of the process in which the testing companies sell students' information to other organizations.

The practice of signing students up for college-admissions exams needs re-examination, too, the PTAC says. The spotlight has focused on this practice as states steadily shift the way they use the SAT and ACT. Years ago, students signed up for the tests themselves.

But as states and districts change strategy—giving the tests for free to all students to build college awareness and readiness, or using them as high school achievement tests for accountability under federal law—many districts take on the registration process.

That puts them at risk of violating federal and state privacy laws, since they're providing students' information to the College Board and ACT Inc. There are two layers of transaction that raise potential problems, because the students' data doesn't stop traveling at the College Board's or the ACT's doors; the testing companies share it with colleges and scholarship organizations.

A recent MIT Technology Review article warns that DNA tests for IQ are coming, but it might not be smart to take one.


Ready for a world in which a $50 DNA test can predict your odds of earning a PhD or forecast which toddler gets into a selective preschool?

Robert Plomin, a behavioral geneticist, says that’s exactly what’s coming.

For decades genetic researchers have sought the hereditary factors behind intelligence, with little luck. But now gene studies have finally gotten big enough—and hence powerful enough—to zero in on genetic differences linked to IQ.

A year ago, no gene had ever been tied to performance on an IQ test. Since then, more than 500 have, thanks to gene studies involving more than 200,000 test takers. Results from an experiment correlating one million people’s DNA with their academic success are due at any time.

As of now, the predictions are not highly accurate. The DNA variations that have been linked to test scores explain less than 10 percent of the intelligence differences between the people of European ancestry who’ve been studied.

Even so, MIT Technology Review found that aspects of Plomin’s testing scenario are already happening. At least three online services, including GenePlaza and DNA Land, have started offering to quantify anyone’s genetic IQ from a spit sample.

“A world where people are slotted according to their inborn ability—well, that is Gattaca,” says [Catherine] Bliss, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “That is eugenics.”

Although it’s still taboo to talk about, some medical scientists are trying to figure out how to use the polygenic intelligence scores to pick the smartest embryo from an IVF dish, choose the best sperm donor, or discover fetuses at high risk for an expanded menu of cognitive disorders, including autism.

Dalton Conley, a sociologist at Princeton University, says as soon as the IQ predictions reach the double digits—something that could occur very soon—we will need to have a “serious policy debate” about such “personal eugenics.” One concern is that IVF is expensive. That could lead to a situation in which the wealthy end up using IQ-test technology to pick kids with select genes while the poor don’t, leading to an unequal society that Conley calls a “genotocracy.”

A recent Bloomberg article posited that college admissions might become less competitive over the next decade due to shrinking cohorts of high school graduates: College Admissions Is About to Get Way Less Stressful.


Most of the growth in higher education enrollment is behind us. And with the millennial generation aging out of their college years, the number of high school graduates is beginning to shrink, particularly in the Midwest and the Northeast, regions with aging demographics. Fewer high school graduates means fewer college students.

This will be a full-blown crisis for some types of institutions, as the recent book "Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education" makes clear. Birthrates in the U.S. began to fall in 2008 because of the great recession, and in 2026 that diminutive recession cohort will start turning 18. Colleges whose business model has been built on growth will be hurting. In the five years beginning in 2026, the number of college-aged students will drop 15 percent.

Rider University (US News-ranked #34 in Regional Universities North; 4,000 undergrads; 69% acceptance rate) has announced the adoption of a test optional policy.