Matt’s Past SAT/ACT News Update:

Matt O'Connor

Jul 15, 2018

Princeton and Stanford have dropped their requirements for SAT/ACT essay testing.

Nick Anderson of the Washington Post covers the story.


Princeton and Stanford universities on Thursday became the latest prominent schools to stop requiring aspiring students to submit an essay score from the ACT or SAT.

Stanford’s dean of admissions and financial aid, Richard Shaw, said in an email that the school would “strongly recommend” that applicants submit an essay score from one of the two admissions tests. But the mandate is gone, starting with students who apply for entry in 2019. Shaw said the university in California’s Silicon Valley will seek alternative methods to promote good writing.

Princeton, the Ivy League university in New Jersey, added a twist to its policy shift: All applicants must submit a graded writing sample from high school. It would prefer that work be in English or history.

In recent years, a growing number of states and school systems have paid for their students to take the SAT or ACT during the school day. Some of those contracts include the optional essay, and some don’t. That creates a dilemma for students who don’t get a chance to take the essay version in school: Should they be required to retake the test with the essay?

Taking the test with the essay costs more — up to $17 more for the SAT and up to $16.50 more for the ACT.

In the high school Class of 2017, about 1.7 million students took the SAT. Seventy percent — 1.2 million — took it with the essay. Many of those essay-writers were doing so just in case they wound up applying to a college that would require it.

The essay version of the ACT — officially known as ACT With Writing — debuted in 2005. A little more than half of the 2 million ACT takers in the Class of 2017 used the option. The writing section adds 40 minutes to the main ACT.

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed also writes about the policy changes announced by Princeton and Stanford:


The moves follow similar announcements from Harvard and Yale Universities and brings the universities in line with most colleges and universities, which do not require the writing tests even if they do require (as Princeton, Harvard, Stanford and Yale all do) the submission of SAT or ACT scores. "With this policy, Princeton aims to alleviate the financial hardship placed on students, including those who have the opportunity to take the test without writing during the school day and for free," said an announcement on Princeton's website.

A Stanford spokesman, in an email to Inside Higher Ed, confirmed the change and said that the university would continue to pay close attention to language and writing in reviewing applications. "We will look at alternatives to promote good writing and this will involve faculty," he said.

In June, when Yale and the University of San Diego announced that they were dropping the SAT/ACT writing requirements, the Princeton Review (which tracks such policies and is not connected to Princeton University) could identify only 25 institutions that continued to require the writing portion of the test, a number now down to 23.

In 2014, the College Board announced revisions to the SAT -- with substantial changes to the essay, including the use of writing passages to force test takers to cite evidence for opinions in their essays.

Generally, critics of the first version of the writing test agreed that the new version was better, but some continued to question whether the writing test had enough value to justify leading students to prepare for and take it. Some advocates for the essay hoped the changes would lead more colleges to rely on it as part of the admissions process. But the news from Harvard, Yale and now Princeton, and the lack of interest in adding the writing test as a requirement, suggests that this is not happening.

Robert Schaeffer of FairTest has written a letter published in the Chicago Tribune urging Illinois policymakers to follow up on the decision by the University of Chicago to drop SAT/ACT requirements by dropping the use of the tests for assessing mastery of the high school curriculum.

Jeffrey Selingo of the Washington Post posits, "Now that the University of Chicago dropped its testing requirement for applicants, will other elite colleges follow?"


In the past few weeks, I’ve talked to several admissions deans at elite colleges. Some, hearing rumblings that one of their counterparts was considering going test-optional, were weighing what they would do in response. A few still like the option of SAT and ACT scores as a check against inflated high-school grades; others say test scores already play a diminished role in their admissions processes.

Standardized test scores “are not as much of a signal as they were before,” Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admission at Georgia Tech, told me in an interview recently. “There’s a lot of noise surrounding them.”

For instance, Clark noted that the average SAT score of last year’s applicant pool at Georgia Tech was on par with the students who were actually accepted to the university a decade ago. (Disclosure: I’m a visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities.)

As a result, like other top universities, Georgia Tech is increasingly considering other factors in making admissions decisions. Rather than just looking at high school grades, Clark said, “we’re now looking at actual course selection” to see how an applicants’ classes line up with their intended majors.

More than 70 schools have dropped their testing requirement since 2013, when the College Board announced plans to redesign the SAT. (The new SAT was first given in spring 2016.) As more colleges go test-optional, the College Board has attempted to defend its core business with evidence that the best approach to predict success in college is to consider both grades and test scores.

The Chicago Tribune editorial board responded to the recent decision by the University of Chicago to drop its SAT/ACT requirement with a critical article titled "That's fine, U. of C., but ACT and SAT tests aren't just for colleges".


This is a big change for the famously selective institution (it admitted just 7 percent of aspirants who applied for the 2018-19 school year), so it’s tempting to put a lot of weight on U. of C.’s choice. But it’s just the latest school to hop on the test-optional trend: Over the last 14 years, more than 200 colleges and universities have decided to ditch standardized tests as essential admission criteria, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

Which brings us to a question a lot of high schoolers are likely asking themselves: Why bother with these tests at all?

This isn’t a trick question, promise. The answer is simple: Because standardized tests matter for more than just college admissions.

It can be hard to tell when schools are failing students. Standardized tests — for all their flaws — offer a uniform measure of accountability. They’re useful to evaluate individual student growth, measure teacher performance, and marshal federal and state funds. When taken in consideration with school attendance, graduation rates, advanced course offerings and college enrollment numbers, test scores help paint a picture of the health of a school and its district.

Yes, there are problems with these tests. Those who have the money can game the system by paying for tutors or taking the test multiple times. That’s why colleges are moving away from the ACT and SAT as indicators of a student’s “fit.”

But these tests aren’t just for colleges. They’re yardsticks for parents, lawmakers and — most important — students.

The Wall Street Journal has published an article titled "The War on Admissions Testing", which questions the test optional movement, and specifically the adoption of a test optional policy by the University of Chicago. The excerpt below cites a possible motivation among test optional-adopting colleges of improving their position in the US News rankings, but ignores the fact that the University of Chicago is already ranked #3 nationally, and that colleges can still obtain test scores from students who were admitted without the consideration of scores.


But the momentum of the “test optional” campaign is not a win for diversity in higher education. It looks more like an opportunity for universities to game the college-ranking system. If test scores are optional, only high-scoring students will submit them and this will make schools like Chicago rank higher. It might also lower their acceptance rates because more students will apply. Accolades for “increasing access” are undeserved.

This article examines the recent test results of nearly 20,000 high school juniors in Idaho who took the SAT in April as part of a state-funded SAT School Day.

Michigan has done away with the practice (initially implemented just last year) of requiring teachers in the state to take the SAT as part of teacher certification.


Prospective Michigan teachers won't have to take the SAT anymore to be certified in Michigan, a move that might help attract more teachers to the profession and help districts struggling with classroom vacancies.

The SAT has been the basic skills exam teachers have had to take since last year, but Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation last week eliminating the Michigan law that requires a basic skills exam in the first place.

"The basic skills test ... is not a strong indicator of how successful a teacher will be," said Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, who sponsored the legislation, which passed the Michigan Legislature earlier this month. The law received widespread bipartisan support when it was before lawmakers, and goes into effect Sept. 25.

The basic skills examination was one of two testing requirements teachers had to meet in order to teach in Michigan and was generally taken before entry into a teacher preparation program. What remains is a requirement that teachers pass a test in the subject matter they're planning to teach, taken at the end of a teacher prep program.

Nick Anderson of the Washington Post queries "Fewer students are taking them. Few colleges require them. So why are SAT Subject Tests still needed?"


About 220,000 high school graduates in the Class of 2017 took a subject test, according to the College Board, which oversees the exams. That total was down 30 percent compared with six years earlier. By comparison, more than 1.3 million in the Class of 2017 took at least one AP test, and millions took the SAT or rival ACT.

Harvey Mudd College, also focused on science and engineering, requires one subject test in math and one in any other field a student chooses. Some major universities recommend that students with engineering ambitions send math and science scores.

Harvard, Yale and Princeton universities, and a few others, recommend sending two subject test scores. Georgetown University strongly recommends three.

James Murphy, director of national outreach for test-preparation company the Princeton Review, said recommending a test, instead of requiring it, is confusing and gives an unfair edge to well-off students with access to expert guidance. He said colleges should be “more transparent about the role [subject] tests play in their admissions process.”