Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update:

Matt O'Connor

Sep 28, 2018

California governor Jerry Brown has vetoed the "Pathways to College Act" that would have allowed California school districts to substitute the SAT or ACT for the state's current HS accountability exams.

[Excerpts from Governor Brown's statement:]

While I applaud the author's efforts to improve student access to college and reduce "testing fatigue" in grade 11, I am not convinced that replacing the state's high school assessment with the Scholastic Aptitude Test or American College Test achieves that goal.

Our K-12 system and our public universities are now discussing the possible future use of California's grade 11 state assessment for college admission purposes. This is a better approach to improving access to college for under-represented students and reducing "testing fatigue".

Catherine Gewertz of Education Week has written about SAT-related developments in Connecticut, where the test has failed to receive Federal approval as the state's High School Achievement Test.


In a preview of where the SAT could falter in its bid to gain new ground in the K-12 world, the U.S. Department of Education has decided that it can't fully approve Connecticut's use of the college-admission exam as a high school achievement test.

The department wants Connecticut to submit "substantial" additional evidence showing that the SAT meets all requirements in federal law when it's used to measure achievement, rather than for its original purposes as a college-admissions test.

Among the areas where the SAT fell short in the federal review were how well it reflects Connecticut's academic standards, and whether students with disabilities and those learning English will get adequate accommodations on the test.

Connecticut's results are worth noting because it's the first state to complete the federal peer-review process with the new version of the SAT. The findings offer a glimpse into the areas that could prove bumpy for states if they opt to use the SAT as a test of high school achievement.

Catherine Gewertz has also written an article outlining the results of two surveys commissioned by Education Week. One gathered the views of nearly 600 college admissions and enrollment-management officials, and the other survey focused on 535 high school guidance counselors.


A pair of new surveys shows deep skepticism about the role the SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement courses play in college admission.

---59 percent of the high school counselors said they'd like to see all colleges go test optional. But only about half said they thought students at their schools were aware of college options that did not require standardized test scores.

---62 percent of the college-admissions and enrollment-management officials said they think that the emphasis on colleges' test-score requirements discourages students from considering colleges where they could get in and do well.

---56 percent of the college-admissions leaders said they think the University of Chicago's recent decision to make ACT or SAT scores optional will lead other colleges to do likewise. Seventeen percent said it was already prompting their institutions to reconsider their SAT or ACT requirements.

Regarding the SAT and ACT writing tests:

---Most college admissions leaders don't value these writing tests. Only 12 percent said the SAT essay offers insight into applicants, and 13 percent said they get insights from the ACT essay.

---55 percent of the high school counselors said the ACT and SAT essays provide good information about students' writing ability.

---Three quarters of the college-admissions leaders said they think the essay portions of the two exams should be dropped.

---Half of the admissions directors in the survey said they think evaluating a graded high school paper would be more valuable to them than the writing portion of the SAT or ACT. Some colleges are starting to accept graded papers instead of essays from the standardized admissions exams.

The LA Times covers an announcement by the University of California that the institution’s academic Senate will undertake a statistical study to see if the SAT and ACT contribute to identifying which students will succeed at UC:

UC faculty leaders announce study on whether SAT and ACT tests accurately predict college success.


University of California faculty leaders announced Wednesday they would launch a study aimed at finding out whether SAT and ACT tests accurately predict college success.

Those who want the nation’s most prestigious public university system to make the standardized tests optional for admissions saw it as a positive sign, though Robert May, the chairman of the UC’s Academic Senate, would not say whether that outcome could result from the review.

Those who think such tests should not be required also argue that they automatically place low-income applicants who can’t afford expensive test preparation at a competitive disadvantage.

“There’s a lot of research about this,” May said after his announcement at the UC regents meeting at UCLA. “We just want to be sure we have the best procedures that are the fairest.”

May said the Academic Senate would study the issue over the course of the school year at the request of UC President Janet Napolitano. In a July letter to faculty leaders, Napolitano said a review of how UC uses the tests and whether any changes were necessary was particularly important now as the university has expanded eligibility for admissions and is experiencing “unprecedented growth in demand.”

For some students, the release of test scores for the August SAT has been delayed due to an investigation into whether the questions used on the test were previously leaked and/or used in Asia.


Students across the country are frustrated that their SAT scores are delayed.

The College Board has sent letters to students that said they wouldn't be releasing the scores on schedule due to an investigation into whether a student is cheating.

The August test was allegedly released early, which is prompting the investigation.

A Cape Coral tutor said that the delay impacted one of his students. The student has to wait three or more weeks to get his SAT score back, which could delay his college applications.

Despite the negative attention and delayed scores resulting from the August SAT controversy, it appears that the College Board has continued to re-use test questions previously leaked in Asia. This time, as Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik writes, it involves questions on the September 15th make-up SAT administration.


After the SAT make-up test was given this weekend, reports again circulated on social media that the make-up test included many questions from a past SAT widely available in Asia.

An educator who works in China told Inside Higher Ed that his students reported the use of these "recycled" questions to him, and that one student told him she had taken a practice test with the questions the day before the exam. The educator asked not to be identified because he said he did not want to anger the College Board, which has been criticized for using old test questions even though the questions circulate in Asia. The educator said he was shocked that the SAT would again use such questions, given all the criticism of the SAT in August, on which many reported seeing questions that had been used before and that were widely available at test-prep centers in China and Korea.

One possible solution for the test security and test re-use issues faced by the SAT and ACT in recent years is to move away from fixed test forms (whether administered via paper test booklets, or via computer) and utilize computer adaptive testing (CAT). CAT allows for the differential selection of questions during testing from a large "test bank" that would be large enough to greatly minimize the impact of cheating. In addition, CAT would provide an option for the computer to consider a test-taker's responses as the test proceeds, thereby displaying differing questions for students to answer. ACT, Inc. has thus been ahead of the College Board in rolling out computer-based testing (which has consisted of fixed-form computer tests so far), and ACT might be poised to move further ahead with its announcement of the acquisition of Automated Item Generation Technology company MGHL Consulting.


AIG is a technology that uses human-created item models to generate test questions with a series of computer programs. It is a proven operational technique that has been thoroughly assessed and verified through rigorous research by ACT and others.

A year ago, ACT joined forces with MGHL Consulting to use AIG to accelerate its test development process. Now it will acquire the company’s AIG technology.

MGHL is headed by Drs. Mark J. Gierl and Hollis Lai, professors in Edmonton, Canada, who have spent more than 10 years developing and implementing the AIG process. Both will continue to work with ACT as consultants.

“Acquiring MGHL’s AIG technology will allow us to build the software together with Dr. Gierl and Dr. Lai,” said Marten Roorda, ACT chief executive officer. “This AIG technology will help us better meet the needs of our customers, speeding up the development of our assessments and significantly increasing the number of test forms available to us.”

There are many potential gains from the implementation of CAT, and a few concerns. On the positive side, aside from increased test security and the ability to tailor a test's questions based on student responses, CAT could result in shorter tests (due to the computer's ability to roughly discern the test-taker's level of academic preparedness, and to then display questions appropriate to fine-tuning such an assessment). Shorter tests could mean that scores will be delivered to students and colleges more rapidly. Potential pitfalls of CAT might include questions about the fairness of scoring students on a single scale despite using different test questions for different students, and the fairness of using the "adaptive" aspect of CAT to potentially task students who start a test poorly with less difficult questions as the test proceeds. Another potential problem with CAT is widespread computer network outages and/or malfunctions, which could disrupt testing administrations (as has occurred during many statewide high school tests).

The adoption of a test optional policy by George Washington university has resulted in a steep drop in the percentage of applicants that submit SAT scores.


In line with a nationwide trend, the percentage of students sending in their SAT scores has dropped by more than a third since the University went test-optional three years ago.

While the percentage of students submitting ACT scores has been largely stable over the past three years, the percentage of students submitting their SAT scores fell from 70 to 46 percent, according to institutional data. On top of the test-optional switch, officials attributed the drop to nationwide changes in standardized testing, like the rising popularity of ACT scores and an overhaul of the SAT’s score calculations in 2016.

Laurie Koehler, the senior vice provost of enrollment and the student experience, said officials anticipated a decline in the number of students submitting standardized test scores when GW initially went test-optional in 2015. But while the percentage of students who have submitted SAT scores has plummeted, the percentage of students submitting ACT scores has remained relatively the same, hovering at about 42 percent over the past three years, according to institutional data.

Admissions and higher education experts said the percentage of students choosing not to submit SAT scores will continue to fall as students realize that officials do not perceive students who choose not to submit scores in a negative light.

Michael Walsh, the dean of admissions at James Madison University, said that since the school went test-optional last fall, the percentage of students submitting their SAT scores also fell from 22 to roughly 18 percent.

Walsh said JMU became test-optional because officials noticed that almost half of incomplete applications were the result of missing test scores, which he attributed to economic disparities among students. Once students adjust to college during their first year at JMU, there is no difference in GPA averages for students who come from different economic backgrounds, he said.

Another elite US liberal arts college has announced the adoption of a test-optional policy. Colby College (located in Waterville, Maine; US News-ranked no. 18 among national liberal arts colleges; 1,900 undergraduates; 13% acceptance rate; ACT 25th-75th percentile of 31-33) will adopt a test-optional policy for applications for the freshman class enrolling in 2019.


Colby’s research using recent classes demonstrated that the College’s comprehensive assessment tools allow the admissions office to select, regardless of test scores, students who will successfully navigate the rigorous curriculum offered by the College. And Colby, as among the nation’s most selective colleges, recognizes how the global competition for access to leading institutions, exacerbated in part by high-stakes testing, is contributing to the rise of anxiety in high school students and their families about the college admissions process. This change should allow students to submit applications that are more individually tailored to their achievements and talents.

The annual testing reports for the SAT and ACT should be released imminently.