Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt OConnor

Sep 27, 2019

The College Board has released the 2019 SAT testing report. Due to the continued expansion of SAT School Day testing through statewide and school district-wide contracts, the number of students from the graduating high school class of 2019 that took the SAT during high school hit an all-time high. A total of 2,220,087 graduating seniors took at least one SAT during high school, up 3.9% from the class of 2018. According to the College Board, the proportion of the overall graduating high school class that took the SAT as part of SAT School Day rose from 36% to 43% over the past year.

The average SAT score slipped from 1068 among the class of 2018 to 1059 for the class of 2019.

The Wall Street Journal covered the release of the SAT report:


The College Board said the lower scores were partly due to the rise in students taking the exam during the school day. These students are more likely to be minority, attend high-poverty public schools and have parents without college degrees. The groups are typically underrepresented on college campuses and might never have taken the test before, said the College Board.

“Those fluctuations we expect to see because our population is changing so much,” said Cyndie Schmeiser, senior adviser to the College Board chief executive.

Since the SAT is now measuring the college readiness of students who previously wouldn’t have taken the test, it is understandable that overall performance has fallen slightly, she said.

Overall, the combined mean SAT score is down to 1059, from 1068, out of a possible 1600 point scale for the two sections on the exam—math and reading, writing and language. The percentage of students meeting benchmarks to indicate readiness for introductory college-level coursework slipped to 45% from 47%.

Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, noted that the 2019 SAT average scores declined in nearly every demographic group.

“SAT score gaps between demographic groups—when broken down by test-takers’ race, parental education or household income—grew even larger in the high school class of 2019,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “The exam remains a more accurate measure of a test-taker’s family background than of an applicant’s capacity to do college level work. No wonder nearly 40% of all four-year colleges in the country are now test-optional.”

Inside Higher Ed's coverage of the 2019 SAT testing report provided additional insight and quotes:


In a continuing trend of lower scores among minority groups over the past decade, more African American and Latino students in the Class of 2019 failed to reach SAT benchmarks for college readiness than on the previous year's test. While 31 percent of Latino and 21 percent of black test takers last year achieved at least a 480 out of 800 for evidence-based reading and writing and 530 out of 800 for math, those numbers dropped to 29 percent and 20 percent in 2019, according to the College Board’s most recent test results, published today.

White students' success in hitting exam benchmarks also dropped two percentage points from 2018, and Asian students' remained the same at 75 percent -- both groups were nearly two times as successful on the exam as their African American and Hispanic counterparts.

The College Board introduced school-day testing for public school systems in 10 states and the District of Columbia in 2019, which Schmeiser said allowed more students with transportation issues and job or family obligations on the weekends to take the exam. The board chalked up 2019 as a win for its test redesign in 2015 when it changed the exam’s scoring methodology and introduced fee waivers and free test preparation in an attempt to increase access for low-income, first-generation and minority students.

“You can see that there’s been a pretty dramatic increase in the number of kids in our total 2019 cohort that did take the test on a school day,” [College Board senior adviser Cyndie] Schmeiser said. “This was one of the reasons why the number of test takers increased.”

Schaeffer is skeptical of the College Board’s efforts to expand its testing base. Programs to increase participation of underrepresented groups are being introduced for business purposes, he said.

He said that at a time when more students are choosing to take the ACT instead of the SAT, and colleges are not requiring applicants to report test scores, the College Board has found new ways to compete by offering the SAT on school days. In the last year alone, 47 colleges and universities have stopped requiring applicants to send standardized test scores, according to FairTest. About 40 percent of all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. do not require all or any applicants to send scores as of this month.

[National Center for Fair and Open Testing's public education director Bob] Schaeffer said school-day testing "probably does have a modest positive effect on student enrollment in college, but if you collected the same demographic information and high school grades, they’re a much more predictable measure of college enrollment."

Nick Anderson of the Washington Post has also written an article regarding the 2019 SAT results:


Mark Hatch, vice president for enrollment at Colorado College, said he worries about “an overemphasis” on test scores. “There is a frenzy out there,” he said, with large numbers of students who report “anxiety or depression and are terrifically stressed out.” His selective liberal arts college is one of a growing number that do not require ACT or SAT scores. The test-optional movement has accelerated since the University of Chicago, one of the nation’s most competitive, dropped its testing requirement last year.

For many, taking the SAT preserves options.

“We want students to be prepared to make the choice to go to college while they are in their senior year or beyond,” said Erin Ward Bibo, the deputy chief of college and career programs for D.C. Public Schools. “We find that people don’t often make their postsecondary plans until their senior year. And there is a lot of swirl in that decision-making.”

Forbes has published an opinion piece that posits that the re-designed "environmental context dashboard" recently announced by the College Board may not have the intended results:


Two weeks ago, the College Board announced that the proffered admissions tool would not be a single number, but a ‘dashboard’ of metrics. Although this announcement was characterized by headlines as “abandoning” the adversity score, the ‘Environmental Context Dashboard’ will still be made available to colleges this year—and the impact may not be as positive as the College Board hopes.

The adversity score (sorry, Environmental Context Dashboard) will have a different impact depending on the type of school. Although this is an oversimplification, I would say there are three categories of colleges and universities—average public schools, wealthy private schools, and average private schools. Each will use the ECD to different effects—and it’s the average private schools I’m concerned about.

At elite private colleges that offer need-blind admissions and need-based financial aid (think Stanford, Yale, Pomona), the Environmental Context Dashboard will likely do little beyond relieving some of the workload of the admissions office. This is because these schools already devote significant effort into evaluating students ‘in context,’ and none of the data that the College Board provides is proprietary...

These schools have massive endowments and are, to a certain extent, able to admit students regardless of their ability to pay. Of course, even ‘need-blind’ schools still have limits on how much aid they’re able to give out per year, and to some extent build their class profile accordingly, but they’re not as reliant on tuition dollars as other schools. So it makes sense that they’re primarily interested in admitting students who will become successful later in life, regardless of their current situation.

The Bad News About Private Colleges

However, as you move down the list of private colleges, that calculation begins to tip, and a student’s ability to pay begins to factor more and more into the admissions decision. This weekend, the New York Times Magazine published a fascinating article by author Paul Tough titled “What College Admissions Offices Really Want,” which offered an inside look into the admissions offices of Trinity College, a somewhat highly-ranked college on the East Coast with a hefty (but not Harvard or Yale-level) endowment. At the beginning of the admissions season, the officers focused on identifying the best students—but as they began to narrow that list, revenue became more and more of a factor. Despite the best intentions and desires of the admissions officers, the need to keep the college sufficiently funded imposed serious limits on how many financial-aid-seeking students they were able to admit. Reading this article, and imagining similar scenes playing out at schools with even smaller endowments, I began to feel serious concerns about the impact the College Board’s Environmental Context Dashboard could have.

...private colleges do have a sense of what students are able to pay and do use that to impose unofficial limits on which students they offer admission to. Some colleges are able to set that limit quite high, and most aspire to increase it, but the limit still exists. And that means that the College Board’s Environmental Context Dashboard, despite its best intentions and the best intentions of the private colleges using it, may not be a good thing for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ball State University has cited the adoption of test optional admissions as a factor in attaining record freshman enrollment over the past year.


Ball State University has set several enrollment records with this year’s classes – including for the largest freshman class. And as IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, officials say the school’s transition to test-optional applications helped them get there.

This semester, there are a total of 22,541 students being educated by Ball State University – a record and a total enrollment increase of about 650 students from last year. That includes the largest freshmen class ever at 4,034 students.

The record class numbers have come from a record number of applications – more than 27,000. Thirty-one percent of those came in test-optional. This was the first class that Ball State allowed to submit applications without scores for the SAT or ACT. And it’s the first public four-year university in Indiana to make the change.

[Vice President for Enrollment Planning and Management Kay] Bales says it helped to see results this year, but she’s already looking to next year.

“But to truly see the impact of such a big decision like this, it really will take a couple of years. But at a minimum, it will take us until next fall, until we really see the performance of the students that just came in.”

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed covers the ever-increasing number of colleges announcing the adoption of test optional policies.


Four more colleges -- including competitive Colorado College and the Rhode Island School of Design -- have gone test optional in admissions.

Colorado admits only 15 percent of applicants. A committee at the college has spent the last year studying the issue and recommended the change. Colorado officials said they expected the new policy to diversify the class.

“Test scores are only one of many criteria that are considered in an applicant’s academic portfolio,” said a statement from Mark Hatch, vice president for enrollment at the college.

RISD officials cited research to back its change.

“The ability of a standardized test to measure students’ academic capabilities is increasingly questioned, with new research demonstrating that these tests may privilege applicants in particular demographic groups,” said a statement from RISD president Rosanne Somerson. “Therefore testing requirements can limit access to college for very qualified students."

Other colleges that have recently announced test optional policies include Xavier University, Delaware Valley University, Elms College and the University of St. Thomas (Texas).

Actress Felicity Huffman has received a sentence of 14 days in prison, a fine of $30,000, and 250 hours of community service for her role in the college admissions scandal that broke in March 2019. New York Times coverage of the story is excerpted below.


In the end, a federal judge in Boston sentenced Ms. Huffman to 14 days in a federal prison on Friday. She was the first parent to face punishment in a case in which nearly three dozen wealthy people are accused of using lies and bribes to smooth their children’s way into prestigious colleges.

Looming over Ms. Huffman’s sentencing were questions about fairness, and whether she and the other mostly white parents in the case would be treated more leniently than poor or nonwhite defendants accused of educational fraud. The issues were emerging in a case that has been seeped with questions of inequity — and well-to-do parents’ efforts not just to guard their advantages, but to grab more.

The judge’s decision to impose a prison sentence on Ms. Huffman, whom prosecutors saw as one of the least culpable parents, made it more likely that any parents convicted in the case will face at least some prison time, even if the period is brief and largely symbolic.

In arguing that the parents in this case should go to prison, prosecutors had a group of black public schoolteachers, principals and administrators in Atlanta, who were convicted in a conspiracy to cheat on state tests, some of whom were sentenced to as much as three years in prison.

Ms. Huffman, who had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, a felony, addressed Judge Indira Talwani on Friday. She read from notes and frequently choking up as she said how deeply she regretted taking part in the cheating scheme in which she paid $15,000 to inflate her daughter’s test score.

Prosecutors have charged 51 people in the expansive admissions case, including coaches and others, and 15 of the 34 parents charged have pleaded guilty. In the cases of some other parents who have pleaded guilty in the case, prosecutors are seeking as much as 15 months of incarceration.