Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Dec 06, 2019

The Chancellor of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, and the UC system's chief academic officer have stated that they favor dropping the SAT and ACT as admissions requirements. The LA Times covers the story:


The chancellors of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, along with the University of California’s chief academic officer, say they support dropping the SAT and ACT as an admission requirement — stances certain to fuel the growing national movement against the tests as an unfair barrier to college entry for underserved students.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ and UC Provost Michael Brown said at a forum on college admissions Friday that research had convinced them that performance on the SAT and ACT was so strongly influenced by family income, parents’ education and race that using them for high-stakes admissions decisions was simply wrong.

“They really contribute to the inequities of our system,” Christ said at the Berkeley forum, sponsored by the Policy Analysis for California Education Research center and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.

Brown said he was not opposed to all standardized tests but objected to tests like the SAT and ACT because their results compare students against one another in a way designed to produce high and low scores. He prefers standardized tests that measure students by how much they’ve mastered prescribed academic content. One such test is Smarter Balanced, which is used in California to assess 11th-graders on the state’s Common Core curriculum, but Brown said he would prefer a test more closely linked to the content of courses required for UC admission.

Separately, UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia K. Larive also said Friday that she supported dropping the testing requirement. “At Santa Cruz, we use holistic admissions to try to evaluate the student within a broader context, which cannot be simply reduced to a number,” she told The Times.

The positions announced by some of the most influential higher-education leaders in California came as the UC system and California State University were reviewing whether to drop SAT and ACT test scores as admissions requirements.

A decision by the two systems to drop the tests would have an outsize influence on the future of standardized testing because they represent a huge share of customers for the nonprofit testing companies.

Doug Belkin of the Wall Street Journal has written an article ("For Sale: SAT-Takers’ Names. Colleges Buy Student Data and Boost Exclusivity") regarding two questionable and intersecting college admissions practices: colleges and universities casting as wide a net as possible for college applications in order to raise selectivity metrics, and the selling of names of SAT/ACT test-takers to colleges and universities to enable the hyper-marketing that will garner thousands of additional applications.


Jori Johnson took the practice SAT test as a high-school student outside Chicago. Brochures later arrived from Vanderbilt, Stanford, Northwestern and the University of Chicago.

The universities’ solicitations piqued her interest, and she eventually applied. A few months later, she was rejected by those and three other schools that had sought her application, she said. The high-school valedictorian’s test scores, while strong by most standards, were well below those of most students admitted to the several schools that had contacted her.

“A lot of the rejections came on the same day,” said Ms. Johnson, a 21-year-old senior film major at New York University, one of three schools that accepted her out of 10 applications. “I just stared at my computer and cried.”

The recruitment pitches didn’t help Ms. Johnson, but they did benefit the universities that sent them. Colleges rise in national rankings and reputation when they show data suggesting they are more selective. They can do that by rejecting more applicants, whether or not those candidates ever stood a chance. Some applicants, in effect, become unknowing pawns.

Feeding this dynamic is the College Board, the New York nonprofit that owns the SAT, a test designed to level the college-admissions playing field.

The board is using the SAT as the foundation for another business: selling test-takers’ names and personal information to universities.

That has helped schools inflate their applicant pools and rejection rates. Those rejection rates have amplified the perception of exclusivity that colleges are eager to reinforce, pushing students to invest more time and money in preparing for and retaking exams College Board sells. Colleges say the data helps them reach a diverse pool of students they might have otherwise missed.

“The top 10% of universities don’t need to do this. They are buying some students’ names who don’t have a great chance of getting in,” said Terry Cowdrey, an enrollment consultant for universities and Vanderbilt University’s acting dean of undergraduate admission in 1996 and 1997. “Then the kids say, ‘well why did you recruit me if you weren’t going to let me in?’ They do it to increase the number of applications; you’ve got to keep getting your denominator up for your admit rate.”

The race for applicants has stoked the environment of anxious families who place a high value on getting into elite schools. An increasingly competitive atmosphere helped set the stage for the admissions cheating scandal unveiled in March. At its center was college counselor William “Rick” Singer, who helped applicants cheat or bribe their way into schools. He has pleaded guilty to bribing college coaches and creating false athletic résumés. He also made use of the SAT, helping students get fake scores.

Leonie Haimson, co-chair of Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, an advocacy group critical of College Board, said disseminating the data may harm a student’s chance of getting into college. If a student performs poorly on the SAT and a school buys the test-taker’s data, say, the school will know the approximate score even if it is a test-optional school.

College Board said using the information to disqualify a student would violate the conditions for using the data.

A paper conducted by the College Board, not yet published, suggests the name-selling does little to benefit applicants or schools. Students whose data it sells are only 0.1 percentage point more likely to apply to the college than identical students who didn’t receive outreach, the paper concludes, and the probability of enrolling in the college increased by 0.02 percentage point. College Board’s Mr. Goldberg, said: “The numbers sound small but the effects are significant.”

Frequent Inside Higher Ed op-ed contributor Jim Jump contemplates the propriety of colleges demanding to see all SAT/ACT scores generated by applicants:


What is the nature of the relationship between applicant and college, and what rights and obligations does each have? Is a college application a curated work of art designed to put the student’s “best foot forward,” or is an applicant, like a witness in court, required to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”? Who “owns” test scores? Is this a case of moral temptation or an ethical dilemma?

Georgetown’s requirement that applicants submit all test scores in grounded in truth and transparency, one of the foundational principles in the National Association for College Admission Counseling Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. Georgetown’s take on testing is that having access to all scores provides more complete and accurate information about a student. According to [Georgetown's dean of admission Charlie] Deacon, “Looking at all scores gives us more information including the pattern of scores and also helps identify those who take it many times, usually those doing test prep. If you take the SAT five times and score 600-650 on verbal on four of them but 750 on one, that is useful information compared with allowing the student to cherry-pick their best score.”

The broader justification for Georgetown’s position is captured in another Deacon quote -- “Your record is your record and you should stand by it.” That position sees test scores as comparable to grades. A student doesn’t have the right to pick and choose which grades they will send. There are, of course, schools that allow students to retake courses and replace low grades on the transcript, but I have always believed that a transcript should be an unedited record of a student’s performance. I must confess that I like the “honesty is the best policy” approach to applying to college -- and to life, for that matter.

It is certainly in Georgetown’s interest to see all of a student’s test scores, but does that therefore impose an obligation on the student to provide those scores? That is not as clear to me. A student is required to tell the truth and nothing but the truth on an application, but what about the whole truth?

Any college application is at least partly a curated document, with the student making choices about what information to provide to best tell their story. For students who have grown up in a social media world, the line between who they are and who they want others to believe they are may long ago have been muddied.

An SAT test administrator who repeatedly allowed cheating during exams has pleaded guilty to accepting almost $200,000 in bribes as part of the college admissions scandal that broke in March of 2019.


A college exam proctor accused of accepting bribes to allow cheating on SAT and ACT tests in a multimillion-dollar college admissions scandal has pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge.

Igor Dvorskiy, a former test administrator, pleaded guilty in a federal court in Boston on Wednesday to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, the state's U.S. Attorney's Office tweeted.

Dvorskiy, 53, was allegedly paid $10,000 per student to allow cheating on college entrance exams taken at a Los Angeles school, either by letting Harvard alumnus Mark Riddell, 36, take the SAT or ACT himself or by replacing students' answer sheets with ones provided by Riddell.

Prosecutors said Dvorskiy accepted nearly $200,000 in bribes for 20 students.

Dvorskiy's bribes were allegedly paid by William Rick Singer — the mastermind behind the college admissions scandal that has included charges against celebrities such as actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

He faced 20 years in prison if found guilty at a trial, according to NBC Boston, but prosecutors will ask a federal judge to give Dvorskiy only two years.

Another test administrator, Houston based Lisa "Niki " Williams, was indicted in October on charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering.