Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Aug 03, 2020

A joint EdSurge/Slate article by Rebecca Koenig asks "As Colleges Move Away From the SAT, Will Admissions Algorithms Step In?"


...test scores are just one piece of data colleges turn to when predicting which students are likely to excel in rigorous courses, enrich campus life with a unique perspective, graduate in four years, or even help balance the books with a large tuition check. But the hole left by the SAT and ACT means more colleges will likely be looking for new ways to help sort out who gets their scarce slots.

Enter the algorithms.

Companies selling admissions algorithms say they have a fairer, more scientific way to predict student success. They use games, web tracking and machine learning systems to capture and process more and more student data, then convert qualitative inputs into quantitative outcomes. The pitch: Use deeper technology to make admissions more deeply human.

“I think this is going to be more heavily relied on, with less access to students in person, test scores, and reliable grades, at least for the spring semester and even going forward next year,” says Marci Miller, an attorney who specializes in education law and disability rights.

But Miller and other skeptics wonder whether the science behind these tools is sound, and ask if students’ data should exert so much control over their destinies. They question whether new selection systems create opportunity for more students at college, or just replicate a particular model of student success.

“The reason these are being marketed as making the process more equitable is, that’s the delusion that’s been adopted in the tech sector,” says Rashida Richardson, director of policy research at the AI Now Institute at New York University. “That’s the tech solutionism in this space, thinking that very complex and nuanced social issues can be solved with computers and data.”

Janet Lorin has written an article for Bloomberg that considers the current status of the SAT/ACT amidst the current crisis.


Two front-page news stories in 2020 could jointly speed the demise of standardized testing, long the gold standard for college admissions in the U.S. The coronavirus pandemic, by forcing the cancellation of in-person test-taking, prompted elite universities including Harvard, Yale and the University of California system to join, at least temporarily, the list of schools that aren’t requiring the ACT and SAT entrance exams. In the meantime, protests over historically unfair and unequal treatment of Black Americans are drawing new attention to large racial gaps in SAT scores, which have been blamed for unequal educational opportunity for non-Whites.

[Author of The Big Test Nicholas] Lemann said he wouldn’t be surprised if many continue without the testing requirement. “This is obviously driven in the primary sense by coronavirus, but the current moment of racial crisis is not irrelevant to what’s going on.”

Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, said standardized tests are good at measuring “accumulated opportunity” but less effective when used “to predict future academic success.” He added, “Kids who start life behind the eight ball can catch up in college. But if you rely on the test score, you don’t give them a chance to succeed.”

Bowdoin College, which led the way by making admission tests optional starting in 1969, considers what courses were available at an applicant’s high school, whether the student chose the most challenging or easiest courses and how the person performed relative to peers, said Whitney Soule, dean of admissions and financial aid. About two-thirds of applicants to Bowdoin choose to include their scores. “If the testing is present, it can add to the assessment” of the applicant, Soule said, but there’s no “void that needs to be filled” if an applicant chooses not to submit test scores.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst (ranked no. 64 among National Universities by US News) has announced that the difficulty of scheduling SAT/ACT tests will result in a 3-year test optional policy


UMass Amherst is joining the growing number of colleges making standardized testing optional – at least temporarily. Beginning with the spring 2021 term, the SAT and ACT will be optional for first-year students. The change will last through the fall term of 2023.

UMass officials say it’s become increasingly difficult to administer these tests in a safe and secure way during the coronavirus pandemic, especially for low-income and minority students.

“UMass Amherst has committed to being test-optional for the next three years,” vice provost for enrollment management James Roche said in a statement. “As one of the country’s top-25 public research universities, we look forward to using the test-optional approach during this period to learn more about the relationship between high school grades and standardized test scores, and to develop even better models for predicting student success in college.”

MIT has joined the long list of elite Universities suspending SAT/ACT requirements for the upcoming undergraduate application cycle. Other institutions making similar announcements include Emory University, UW-Madison, Clemson University, the New York state SUNY system, and the University of Maryland.

In another example of the vulnerability of massive databases, a college recruitment database has apparently improperly secured personal student information, leading to a potential leak of nearly 1 million students’ GPAs, SAT/ACT scores, and personal identification information. CyberNews discovered the breach:


We recently discovered an unsecured Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) bucket, or database, containing nearly 1 million records of sensitive high school student academic information.

Included in this unsecured bucket are GPA scores, ACT, SAT, and PSAT scores, unofficial transcripts, student IDs, and students’ and parents’ names, email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers and more.

The unsecured bucket seems to belong to CaptainU, an online platform that purports to help connect student athletes and colleges or universities that are interested in recruiting them for their athletic programs. Because of that, the bucket also contains pictures and videos of students’ athletic achievements, messages from students to coaches, and other recruitment materials.

Because the data leaks concern minors (being high school students) aged 13-18, this leak seems particularly sensitive.

On May 22, we reached out to CaptainU to help them secure their database. When we received no response from the company, we contacted Amazon on June 1 to get the issue fixed. However, while they were able to secure the indexing on June 9, the files are still accessible.

Through an Amazon representative, CaptainU claimed that the sensitive educational data was “meant to be openly available.” But it seems that CaptainU never mentioned this fact to the students or their parents.

The pandemic continues to cause tremendous disruption to American education. As reported by Nick Anderson of The Washington Post, some of the recent developments are a tuition cut at Princeton, and announced plans at Ivy League and other top universities to only allow half of undergraduates to return to campuses in the fall.


Princeton University announced Monday it will cut tuition 10 percent in the coming school year and bring no more than half its undergraduates to the campus in New Jersey, an extraordinary acknowledgment of how the coronavirus pandemic has hobbled the operations of a school that aims to provide education through experiences inside and outside of the classroom.

“We do believe that being immersed in a learning environment matters,” Christopher L. Eisgruber, Princeton’s president, said. The discount from the previously announced rate will set tuition at about $48,500.

Eisgruber said he knew of no similar price cut in Princeton’s history. “This is one heck of a crisis,” he said.

Also on Monday, Harvard University said it will bring about 40 percent of its undergraduates to its campus in Massachusetts, most of them freshmen. All undergrad classes in the fall will be delivered remotely, no matter where the students live, but Harvard’s tuition will remain the same: about $49,700.

Georgetown University, meanwhile, will invite freshmen to its D.C. campus and bar most others from living there in an effort to protect public health. Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said the university is weighing its tuition policy amid the coronavirus constraints. “We haven’t brought closure to that yet,” DeGioia said. Georgetown’s announced tuition is roughly $57,000.

The fallout from the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal continues. One parent who pleaded guilty to paying $400,000 to have his daughter's SAT scores altered, and to have her falsely accepted at Georgetown University as a top tennis recruit has been sentenced to 6 months in prison. As reported in the New York Post, the current total stands at 28 parents who have pleaded guilty, and 20 who have been sentenced.