Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Jun 26, 2019

The University of Rochester has announced the adoption of a test optional policy for the class entering in the fall of 2020. The university becomes the 3rd most highly US News-ranked National University to go test optional (the University of Chicago and Wake Forest University are the only higher-ranked test optional National Universities). U of Rochester has 6,500 undergraduates, a 34% acceptance rate, and SAT 25th-75th percentile scores of 1300-1490).

[Excerpt from the article linked above]:

“During our test-flexible years, we also discovered that optional standardized tests added little extra value to our review process,” Vice Provost for Enrollment Initiatives and Dean of Admissions Jonathan Burdick says. “Even well-constructed tests don’t lead to better decisions, and the cost to students having to take and submit those extra exams outweighs any benefit to us."

The University of Rochester had been test flexible since 2011.

A study done by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce that calculated how college admissions results would change if SAT/ACT scores were the sole admissions criterion has received considerable press coverage. The study, titled SAT-only Admission - How Would it Change College Campuses?, reached the following primary conclusions:


A review of SAT and ACT standardized test scores among students in a recent class at the nation’s 200 most selective colleges finds that if all students were admitted solely on the basis of their test scores and no new seats were added, 53 percent of incoming students at the nation’s most selective colleges would no longer be attending. These students had median test scores that were 110 points below the median of all students at selective colleges (1140, compared to 1250). More than half of the students who would be ousted are affluent students—from families in the top quartile of socioeconomic status (SES).

If those students were ousted and replaced by applicants with higher test scores, however, the student bodies of America’s most selective colleges would become even more aristocratic. Now, 60 percent of incoming freshmen at selective colleges are from the top quartile of family SES, but that would increase to 63 percent if students were admitted based on standardized test scores alone.

In addition to having more affluent students, selective colleges would become notably less racially diverse. The White enrollment would grow by about 14 percent. Meanwhile, the combined Black and Latino enrollment at selective colleges would be reduced by 43 percent, and Asian enrollment would decline as well—by about 9 percent.

Reporting and analysis of the Georgetown CEW study follows.

First, The Wall Street Journal's Doug Belkin: What If Colleges Used Only Test Scores to Fill Campuses?


As Americans debate the roles of wealth, race and access in higher education, researchers at Georgetown University wondered: What would the nation’s most selective colleges and universities look like if they admitted students solely on the basis of SAT scores?

Their answer: The most prestigious U.S. campuses would be wealthier, whiter and more male—leading researchers to question the role standardized testing plays in a fair, comprehensive admissions process.

More than half the students now enrolled at the top 200 colleges and universities would lose their seats to students who performed better on the test—and the median SAT score would rise by 70 points to 1320, the study found.

The biggest losers in this reshuffling were black and Latino students, whose numbers would be cut nearly in half, to 11% of all students from 19%. The share of Asian students would slip to 10% from 11%. The principal winners were wealthy white male students, whose ranks would increase. But a large number of white students would lose their seats and be replaced with other white students.

“The affluent have extraordinary advantages in college admissions,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which performed the analysis. Until 2005, Mr. Carnevale was a vice president at Educational Testing Service, which is a client of The College Board and administers the SAT.

“When used as part of a holistic strategy, standardized testing offers a check on opaque admissions, but it’s still no guarantee of fairness,” Mr. Carnevale said. “It’s time to find a better approach.”

Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik covered the study in his article, What Would Change With Test-Only Admissions?


These days there is much discussion about colleges going test-optional in admissions, and relying primarily on high school grades for evaluating applicants' academic potential. But what if colleges went in the other direction -- and made decisions only on the basis of SAT or ACT scores?

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce decided to conduct what it called a "thought experiment" on such a system. And that experiment found that the use of test scores alone would result in a significantly different student body -- more white and more wealthy -- than is admitted now.

No colleges admit applicants that way. And the College Board and ACT urge colleges to make admissions decisions in which their tests are one factor, but not the sole factor.

But the findings, released Sunday, challenge some ideas about affirmative action and college admissions. And the idea may not be as far-fetched as it appears. Some of the rhetoric used by critics of affirmative action suggests that there should be clear, numerical definitions of merit. And a fierce debate is raging in New York City over the system in which a single test determines who gets into highly competitive public high schools -- a system in which a majority of those admitted are Asian Americans, and in which black and Latinx enrollments are quite small. In college admissions, even if test scores are but one factor, the report from Georgetown notes that many applicants and parents obsess over these scores.

There are obvious limitations to this approach, as noted in the report. For starters, the levels of competitiveness of the colleges that are most competitive are quite different from those at the bottom end of the top 200.

The big change would be enrollment by race. The white share would go from 66 percent to 75 percent. The combined black and Latinx enrollment would drop from 19 to 11 percent. The Asian share would drop from 11 to 10 percent.

Barbara Gill, associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of Maryland at College Park and chair of the College Board's board, said via email: "No one is advocating for SAT-only admissions, which is why conducting a study like this doesn’t make sense and is misleading. Families should know that this study has nothing to do with the way admissions is practiced in modern times in the United States."

Eric Hoover of the Chronicle of Higher Education also covered the Georgetown study's release: Who Would SAT-Only Admissions Help? White, Affluent Students


A test-only policy would also make those colleges “even more aristocratic,” the researchers found. The share of students in the top socioeconomic quartile — families with college-age children and a median annual income of at least $122,000 — would rise to 63 percent from 60 percent.

The findings were the result of an exercise that used data on all domestic students from the high-school graduating class of 2013 who had reported ACT or SAT scores. The researchers sorted students by test score and “admitted” them on the basis of that metric alone until they had filled 300,000 seats at the 200 colleges. Not one applicant with an SAT score below 1250 got a spot.

Newsweek also covered the study: How Would an Sat-Only Admissions Process Alter Student Demographics at Colleges?


"Operation Varsity Blues," the recent college admission scandal, lifted the veil on a bribery scheme that helped students gain acceptance to several colleges and universities through fraudulent exam scores and forged athletic records. Lawmakers and university systems have since looked at implementing measures to ensure students are accepted based on their merit.
One bill in California would require three administrators to sign off on a decision to admit a student who didn't have the required combined SAT or ACT score and high school GPA. Another bill would restrict preferential admissions for the children of donors or alumni.

"In the wake of the college admissions scandal, our thought experiment tested whether removing legacy and social capital from the admissions equation would have a more equitable outcome," Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, CEW director and the report's lead author, said in a statement. "But a test-only admissions policy would only further privilege in the higher education system."

Here is a wide-ranging opinion piece by Thomas B. Edsall published in the New York Times that covers many aspects of the debate over testing, college admissions and opportunity: "The Meritocracy Is Under Siege".


The debate over meritocracy has been intensifying. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Do we want it or don’t we?

The worldwide demand for talent and the accelerated use of standardized testing (and cognitive ability testing in particular) are driving this debate. Who gets to decide who has merit? And even more fundamentally, what is merit?

One thing is clear: The dispute is splitting the ranks of both the political left and the political right.

From a positive vantage point, meritocracy is “a political system in which economic goods and/or political power are vested in individual people on the basis of talent, effort and achievement.”

Viewed negatively, such a system discriminates against the less highly educated and those who perform less well on ability tests. At the same time, meritocracy privileges an arrogant, complacent and entrenched elite — largely white, increasingly Asian — with the money, resources and connections to jump to the head of the line.

Much resentment focuses on the way in which the meritocracy is selected, through the education process, and on the winnowing effect of extensive standardized assessments that seek to measure and validate cognitive skills.

Discontent with meritocratic selection processes is by no means limited to those on the right.

In academia, where there is an ongoing struggle over the very concept of cognitive ability, critics have won some battles.

The use of psychometric testing is now extensive, and competitive economic pressures will effectively compel businesses into ever more testing.

The economic and educational hierarchies created by the use of such tests as the SAT, the ACT, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and other similar exams have split the left.

The reality is that meritocratic testing is certain to be commonplace for the foreseeable future in corporate America and in specialized professions, although some schools and colleges may cut back.

CareerBuilder, which describes itself as “at the forefront of innovation when it comes to using data and technology to evolve the human capital management space,” estimated in a December 2017 study that “companies lost an average of $14,900 on every bad hire in the last year,” not to mention damage to a company’s reputation, to workplace morale and the loss of other qualified workers.

Insofar as testing reduces the number of bad hires, businesses in competitive marketplaces are motivated to support the use of ability assessments.

As a country we have moved past the idea that the basics of a decent life should be hoarded by an aristocracy, a hereditary class with a monopoly on wealth, power and property. Allocating resources on the basis of merit is arguably a better system, or at least, less unjust. Still, it is far from perfect.

More trouble related to standardized test security: 440 students in North Carolina will have to take the ACT because the answer sheets from their tests were never returned to ACT, Inc. for scoring.


Their school lost the test's answer sheets for the entire rising senior class -- that's everyone who took the ACT on February 20 and March 13.

The answers are just, well, gone.

"It was human error," Moore County Schools spokeswoman Catherine Murphy told CNN. "The actual answer sheets were never shipped back to ACT." The school, which is in Southern Pines, North Carolina, has no record of a shipment and administrators "have no idea" where the answer sheets are, Murphy said.

"I was very angry and I still am, just because we worked so hard and studied hard and to be told it was all for nothing," one of the students Lindsay Douglass, 17, said.

"It's really disappointing. The students are having to pay for the adults' mistakes."

The school district will retest the affected students when they return to school in the fall at no cost, Murphy said.

Murphy said "there has been action taken at a personnel level" but declined to provide additional details.

One of the methods used to obtain fraudulent SAT/ACT scores during the college admissions scandal that was uncovered as part of "Operation Varsity Blues" involved students attaining unwarranted accommodations, which allowed them to take exams at remote testing centers, with no other students present. In these solo testing settings, bribed testing proctors who would either correct answer choices to improve test scores, or even allow an impostor to take tests outright. Inside Higher Ed recently published an article written by a 30-year SAT/ACT tutor that examines the wider problem of parents obtaining accommodations for their children, that suggests a method for making the process less susceptible to abuse.


The first solution is to clamp down on the number of students whose parents are paying off doctors to write up a fake or stretched diagnosis which allows their child to receive extra time. I believe that doctors should face jail time if they make up fake diagnoses.

But even if the fake cases are cut down, some (mainly wealthy) students will still gain an unfair advantage, largely because of the wacky way tests for students with accommodations are administered.

Let’s run through the oddities: students with accommodations often take the SAT or ACT at their own high school, which is frequently a private high school, and the test is administered by a teacher, counselor or administrator from that high school … Private high schools want the highest possible average ACT or SAT score for their school. High average SAT/ACT scores become bragging rights and help private schools to attract a greater number of applicants … Many students who take the SAT or ACT with accommodations test in a smaller, often quieter environment with significantly fewer students in the room (sometimes no one else!) … Many students with extra time accommodations are also allowed to take the SAT or ACT over two days … Some students with accommodations take the SAT or ACT over five days!

So, here’s my radical solution: all students with accommodations should take the SAT or ACT at central test sites (located in large cities or the centers of rural counties in each major geographical area of the country), and they should all take the test on the same days, and only the same days, that the SAT and ACT are administered to everyone else. Finally, the entire test for everyone must be finished on the same day.

Nick Anderson of the Washington Post writes about a study performed by the American Educational Research Association that concludes that the pool of applicants to colleges and universities located in Virginia would increase significantly if all public schools in the state offered free SAT/ACT testing.

[Excerpts from the Anderson article follow]:

If every public high school in Virginia offered college admission tests free, the supply of graduating seniors who could compete for entry to major universities within the state would grow significantly, according to a study released Tuesday.

The pool of prospects for the highly selective University of Virginia and College of William & Mary would expand nearly 20 percent, the study from U-Va. researchers found, and as much as 40 percent for broader-access public universities. The boost would be especially notable, the study found, for students from poor families who otherwise might not think about signing up to take the SAT or ACT.

But universal testing has been slow to catch on in Virginia even though many states and school systems elsewhere pay to provide one of the two major admission tests during the school day.

The study released Tuesday analyzed data on the academic performance of students in the 2014 graduating class who didn’t take the SAT. Those “non-takers,” it turns out, included many with high potential who might have been overlooked because their names and addresses weren’t on test-score lists.

“If you can’t find them, it’s hard to recruit them,” said Sarah Turner, a professor of economics and education at U-Va. She co-authored the study, published in a peer-reviewed journal by the American Educational Research Association, with Emily E. Cook, a PhD candidate in economics at U-Va.

Turner said offering admission testing in all schools would require trade-offs.

“If you make everybody take the test, you are going to increase costs, obviously,” she said. Some burden would also fall, she said, “on students who may have no interest in college” and do not want to take a three-hour test that has no meaning for them.

About 32,900 students in the class, or about 44 percent of the total, didn’t take the SAT. Of those, the researchers estimated that about 8,000 would have scored at least 1000 on the exam’s math and reading sections. They estimated that about 1,800 would have scored 1200 or better — marks that might have put them in contention that year, or nearly so, for schools such as U-Va. or William & Mary. Test scores are one of many factors those universities use, along with grades, course selection and extracurricular activities, to select an entering class.

It is worth noting that the organization that conducted the study frequently publishes pro-standardized testing research. In addition, while applicant pools might expand if free testing were provided at all Virginia high schools, the number of positions available to applicants in the state's higher education institutions would not increase commensurately, and students would still be evaluated in part by their SAT/ACT scores when submitting such scores (even at test optional colleges).