Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Jun 11, 2019

New Jersey has added the SAT/ACT to HS student options to demonstrate sufficient proficiency in English and math to merit graduation. The current legislation covers high school graduating classes out to 2022. Details of the required scores on the SAT/ACT, PARCC, and Accuplacer exams that can be found here.

Previously, the PARCC exams were used by New Jersey as a condition of graduation, but the requirement was ruled a violation of state law by a 3-judge panel.

With an eye towards recruiting and retaining younger workers, Walmart has announced a plan to offer free SAT/ACT test prep to employees.


High school students who stock shelves and bag groceries at Walmart now have more than just a paycheck to look forward to.

The giant retailer is adding several new education benefits with an eye toward high school student employees. The company will pay for ACT and SAT prep courses, allow students to schedule hours around the school day and offer up to seven hours of free college credit.

Last year, the company introduced a job perk that offered to pay workers to go to college. The tab to workers was just $1 a day. Walmart partnered with several universities to offer associate's and bachelor's degrees to many of its workers. The company is even considering offering a bonus for select, stellar employees who graduate from college through the program.

Perks like these are what drew Ethan Roberts, a rising high school senior, to apply for a job at a Walmart in Fayette County, Ga.

"I heard that they had a lot of benefits [for] going into college, and they had a lot of programs that would benefit me in the future," the 16-year-old says. "I had already taken the ACT and SAT, but I'm going to take them again so I can get better scores. So I'll definitely utilize that program."

Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik reports that the College Board has notified some students that a math question on the May 2019 SAT was incorrectly written, and that students who selected certain answer choices that were initially marked incorrect will now receive credit for a correct answer.


Some of those who took the SAT in May are getting good news: their scores are going up.

The answer to one mathematics question didn't include all of the correct answers, so those who picked one of the correct answers did not receive credit for a correct answer.

The College Board did not announce the error but notified students whose scores went up.

One student posted the notice from the College Board on Reddit, and a College Board spokeswoman confirmed the authenticity of the post. The post said that, for all test takers who had their scores reported to colleges, the College Board would send an updated score this week. The notice also gave a website where those receiving the notice could see their new scores. The student who posted the notice to Reddit reported having a mathematics SAT score go from 790 to 800. That student appears to have had only one incorrect answer (the one that turned out not to be incorrect). The points gain for some students with more than one incorrect answer may be 20 points or more.

The positive changes on some students' scores will not affect the scores of other students, the College Board spokeswoman said.

Newsweek reports on how the SAT scoring error came to light, and on the prospect that previous administrations of the SAT may also have been impacted by the improperly written question:

In recent years, the recycling of exams was criticized for creating an uneven playing field and in 2018, a parent filed a class-action lawsuit against College Board, the organization that owns the test, for reusing old exam questions.

This reusing of questions is something that Adam Ingersoll, co-founder of Compass Education Group, a tutoring company, told Newsweek is problematic because its implications could spread farther than just one exam date.

About two weeks ago, a Compass tutor in San Francisco discovered a non-multiple choice math question on the May 4 SAT exam did not account for all correct answers. It was reported to College Board, which investigated it and informed students on Friday if their scores were updated.

"It is highly likely that this mistake was on a previous exam, probably a year or two ago," Ingersoll said. "The College Board has made no statement acknowledging that possibility and its implications."

Newsweek reached out to College Board about the possibility the question appeared on previous exams but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Ingersoll added that it's "impossible to say" how many errors there have been on exams, partially because every exam isn't able to be reviewed. Exams are administered on various dates throughout the year and given that exams are expensive to create, questions are recycled. Only the May SAT is officially released publicly to all test-takers, though.

"Therefore the vast majority of tests never see the light of day, at least not officially and legally," Ingersoll said.

The tutoring company co-founder explained the College Board will use "various schemes and scheduling patterns" to try to reuse questions that maintain the test's integrity. However, SAT material has been shared on Reddit and even stolen. So, he called it "fanciful at best if not simply dishonest" to claim test reuse is fair for students who rely on officially released test material to prepare.

Inside Higher Ed has picked up on statements made on Reddit that the questions for an SAT II Biology exam may have been compromised and in the hands of students in Asia before the test was administered:


The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a group that has long criticized standardized tests and pointed to security problems on them, revealed Thursday that it had received a call with information about questions on the SAT subject test in biology given last weekend. Further, similar questions turned up on Reddit, FairTest announced. The call with information about the test came from East Asia and took place before the exam was given in the United States. FairTest noted that many test takers monitor Reddit, making it possible some had an advance edge on the test.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has written an article looking at the practice of requiring students to take “field tests”: exams that do not result in student grades, but are used by standardized testing companies to develop test questions.


Millions of U.S. students take standardized tests every year with the sole goal of helping testing companies make better tests.

They are called “field tests,” and students take them at different times of year — often in spring and early summer — to test questions so that companies can determine whether they are constructed well enough to use on future exams. New York is completing its field tests this week.

Kids don’t get a grade but take them anyway, sometimes without their parents’ knowledge.

(If this sounds to you as though students are being used as guinea pigs for testing companies, well . . .)

School systems and testing companies say field tests are a vital part of writing new and valid exams and that including students is necessary. Critics have questioned their usefulness. (Questions used for the same purpose also appear on standardized tests that really do count. But students aren’t told which ones.)

Concerns about the validity of questions on high-stakes standardized tests have dogged testing companies for years, prompting critics to ask whether field tests work as well as they should. Complaints about the wording or usefulness of questions mar just about every testing cycle — and have for years.

Fred Smith, a testing specialist and consultant who served for many years as an administrative analyst for the New York City public schools, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Daily News in May imploring education leaders to alert parents to the field tests and give them the right to exempt their children from the tests.

He also raised questions about the usefulness of field tests:

In 2009, an SED [State Education Department] testing adviser conceded that students taking these tests know they’re experimental and they aren’t being graded on them. Unmotivated, their performance fails to yield accurate data on how difficult the try-out questions will be when they appear on official exams.

Doug Belkin of the Wall Street Journal has written an article addressing a significant increase in the number of students who are granted accommodations when taking the SAT and ACT, such as extra time, or being allowed to take the exams in a room by themselves. The fact that statistical analysis shows that students from wealthier families are far more likely to be granted such accommodations also raises questions about the fairness of this practice.


At Scarsdale High School north of New York City, one in five students is eligible for extra time or another accommodation such as a separate room for taking the SAT or ACT college entrance exam.

At Weston High School in Connecticut, it is one in four. At Newton North High School outside Boston, it’s one in three.

“Do I think that more than 30% of our students have a disability?” said Newton Superintendent David Fleishman. “No. We have a history of over-identification [as learning-challenged] that is certainly an issue in the district.”

Across the country, the number of public high-school students getting special allowances for test-taking, such as extra time, has surged in recent years, federal data show.

And students in affluent areas such as Scarsdale, Weston and Newton are more likely than students elsewhere to get the fastest-growing type of these special allowances, known as “504” designations, a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from 9,000 public schools found.

The Journal analysis shows that at public schools in wealthier areas, where no more than 10% of students are eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches, an average of 4.2% of students have 504 designations giving them special test-taking allowances such as extra time.

Only 1.6% of students have these designations at public schools in poorer areas, defined as those where 75% or more of students are eligible for free and reduced-cost lunches, the Journal found.

The appeal of having extra time to take such exams grew when the College Board, the SAT’s sponsor, in 2003 stopped notifying colleges if a test-taker had been given extra time. The sponsor of the ACT test, a nonprofit that is also called ACT, doesn’t tell colleges either.
The number of students given the 504 designation more than tripled from 2000 to 2016, according to federal statistics.

In turn, the number of students who could get extra time when they took their exams for college admission also soared.

Requests to the College Board for such special accommodations jumped 200% from the 2010-11 year to the 2017-18 year, the organization said. Over that same time frame the number of test takers increased by 25%.

High schools submit the great majority of these requests. Most ask for extra time. The College Board approves 94% of the requests, it said.

In another indication of the motivation among colleges and universities to protect or improve their US News rankings, the University of Oklahoma has been stripped of its ranking due to deliberate and prolonged submission of false data regarding alumni donations to the institution.


U.S. News & World Report has stripped the University of Oklahoma of its ranking, citing incorrect information provided about alumni giving. The university told U.S. News that it has been supplying incorrect data since 1999.

According to the magazine, the most recent report from Oklahoma claimed that its two-year rate of alumni giving was 14 percent, when it is actually 9.7 percent. Alumni giving counts for 5 percent of the methodology in the "Best Colleges" ranking by U.S. News. As a result, the magazine removed Oklahoma from that ranking and several others, including "best value" colleges, top public universities and best colleges for veterans.

Colleges periodically lose their rankings because of false data, sometimes submitted incorrectly but without the intent to deceive.

This marks the second time in two years that a college has been found to have submitted false data to U.S. News -- and to have done so intentionally -- for multiple years. Temple University last year admitted that its business school had submitted false data about its online M.B.A. program from 2015 to 2018. The data fraud at Oklahoma went on longer.

Marquette University (US News-ranked no. 89 among National Universities; 8,300 undergraduates; 89% acceptance rate; ACT 25th-75th percentile of 24-29) has announced the adoption of a test optional policy for students applying for the freshman class of 2020.

The University of Southern Maine (6,100 undergraduates; 83% acceptance rate; SAT 25th-75th percentile 950-1160) has also adopted a test optional policy for students applying for the fall class of 2020.