Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Feb 08, 2021

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed offers a lengthy article with many quotes from high school and college professionals on how recent developments will impact the College Board in an article titled "The College Board's (Smaller?) Future".


The changes announced were clearly designed to preserve the main SAT and the Advanced Placement program.

But what of the College Board? "The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity," the organization's website declares.

Many observers -- some of them long-standing critics and others sometime fans -- say the College Board will be smaller and less influential in the future. And they expect most colleges that went test optional this year to stay that way, further eroding the board's influence.

"Although there were an increasing number of schools adopting test-optional admission policies, in this area, as in so many others, the pandemic has accelerated what will come to be permanent changes in the functioning of our society," said Steve Syverson, a retired senior admissions official at the University of Washington at Bothell and Lawrence University.

"Lots of colleges didn't really even need to require the SAT, as they were already admitting everyone who was admissible, but they didn't want to eliminate it as a requirement because they felt it would devalue them," Syverson continued. "In a sense, the pandemic -- and the pervasive adoption of temporary test-optional or test-blind policies -- gave them permission to eliminate the requirement. And I believe a large number of institutions will not return to requiring it. So I think there's no going back."

Syverson was the co-author of a 2018 report that found colleges that are test optional generally get more applications and more diversity among those applicants and among students.

While he expects more colleges to stay test optional, he doesn't think the College Board will fade away. "I doubt they will disappear even if the SAT does," he said. "In some way they are perhaps too big to fail. They provide other value to education and I expect they will find ways to pivot to cover the revenue loss of the SAT. In addition to an effort to bolster use of the AP exams, I expect they will navigate toward adding some other sort of standardized assessment for use by colleges."

Pat McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, which does not require tests for admissions, said, "Eliminating the SAT essay and subject tests is an admission of some problems in the SAT system, but hardly enough of an overhaul."

She added, via email, "If the College Board really wants to save itself, it would eliminate the SAT entirely and, instead, become a leader in working with institutions to develop innovative strategies for assessing student strengths and competencies, not only in high school but across the life span, thus helping higher education do a better job of matching students and programs more effectively. More effective matching of student talents and interests would reduce attrition and wasted credits, save students money and increase completion, a win-win for everybody. But as it is right now, the SAT is simply a high barrier that funnels students without much concern for what happens to them once they get through the barrier."

Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and a long-standing critic of the College Board, said via email, "FairTest's read is that the College Board is becoming increasingly nervous financially and is doubling down on pushing its flagship products -- the SAT and AP -- to maintain its income stream. Based on test-taking numbers published by Inside Higher Ed and others, annual PSAT volume is down by 2.4 million (at $19 each, that's $45+ million) and SAT volume is down 800K (at ~$50 each, another $40+ million). There's no way to calculate the hit to their hugely profitable list rental business from the sharp reduction in the number of student names available to market, but even if the total revenue decline is 'only' $100 million, that's still serious money for a billion dollar a year business."

He added, "So, I feel increasingly comfortable with our initial analysis that the retrenchment announced on Tuesday was consistent with other corporations facing severe market threats -- shed peripheral products and concentrate more heavily on its big breadwinners. Time will tell how well this strategy works, but the board faces additional economic headwinds from schools extending SAT/ACT-optional policies (both Amherst and Penn State went to three-year pilots this month), the sharp increase in test score nonsubmitters among current seniors applying for admission, and the ugly reality that the pandemic will keep many test centers shut this spring."

This Harvard Crimson article examines the ramifications of the College Board's scraping of the SAT essay and SAT subject tests.


Citing the unpredictable shifts in the admissions process this past year, college consultant Parke Muth said the implications of the College Board’s decision are still unclear.

“It's either arrogance or willful ignorance to say we know how things are going to unfold,” he said. “I don’t think schools have decided yet.”

Zak M. Harris, a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins University and Bowdoin College who currently works as a college counselor at InGenius Prep, said the College Board’s choice to discontinue the SAT’s essay option “did not come much of a surprise.”

“At any of the places that I ever worked, the essay score that students got really never played a very significant factor in the decisions that were being made anyway,” Harris said.

Phil Trout — a college counselor and former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling — said he had expected the College Board to significantly cut down or eventually “scrap” the Subject Tests, pointing to a declining number of test takers over the past 20 years.

“My concern is, will the most selective colleges choose to implement at some point an alternate testing requirement?” Trout said. “The fear is that the answer to that question will be yes. And that it will be the AP test score.”

Jon J. Boeckenstedt, vice provost of enrollment management at Oregon State University, said he expects the removal of standardized tests will motivate more students — especially low-income students – to apply to more selective institutions. He also said that the shift in emphasis to AP tests will likely compel high school students to take the corresponding advanced courses.

“I think it will also have a ripple effect through the AP program and for school districts, school administrators, and superintendents to consider adopting more AP classes, which will then trickle down into more pressure on those students to take those classes,” Boeckenstedt said. “That can be both a good and a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.”

Nick Anderson of The Washington Post addresses the impact the widespread suspension of SAT/ACT requirements has had on college application numbers.


The University of Virginia drew a record 48,000 applications for the next class in Charlottesville — about 15 percent more than the year before.

Freshman applications to the University of California at Berkeley crossed into six figures for the first time, totaling more than 112,000, up 28 percent. Harvard University’s total spiked to an all-time high of 57,000. That’s up 42 percent.

The sudden explosion in demand for these and other big-name schools is another ripple effect of the coronavirus pandemic that could reshape college admissions for many years to come. The pandemic has given huge — and in some places, decisive — momentum to a movement to reduce or even eliminate the use of admissions testing at highly competitive colleges and universities. That, in turn, has lured more applicants to the upper tier of the market.

Overall, the strength of the student pipeline into higher education during the pandemic appears uneven.

The Common Application, an online portal for hundreds of colleges and universities, reports that about 1 million students applied this year ahead of January deadlines. Application totals fell modestly at public universities with fewer than 10,000 undergraduates and at small private colleges that tend to admit most applicants.

But the Common App found a surge of applications to schools with national and global reputations. At large public universities, including state flagships, totals rose more than 11 percent. At private schools with more selective admissions, they rose more than 17 percent.

Shifts in admissions testing policy, experts say, played a key role.

“This barrier, i.e. standardized testing, was taken down, and maybe some students put their hats in the ring who otherwise wouldn’t have,” said Eric J. Furda, who recently stepped down after 12 years as dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania.

Forbes reports that the College Board has announced that it will not attempt to create a version of the SAT that students can take at home, but will continue development of a digital SAT that students will take in traditional proctored settings.


The College Board is not planning to introduce a virtual SAT. According to Zachary Goldberg, the head of media relations for the New York City-based nonprofit that owns the SAT college admission test, work is underway to develop a digital version of the exam that can be offered in proctored test centers. The digital test would substitute for the paper and pencil version students have taken for decades. “We are investing in a more flexible SAT—a streamlined, digitally-delivered exam that meets the evolving needs of students and higher education,” said Goldberg.

The plan to offer a digital SAT in proctored test centers is far less ambitious than a promise the Board made last year. In April 2020, it issued a news release that said, “in the unlikely event that schools do not reopen this fall” it would provide “a digital SAT for home use.” Two months later, the Board canceled plans for the home test without explanation.

This isn’t the College Board’s first attempt to offer a digital, school-proctored exam. For the past few years, it has given a digital PSAT 10 and digital SAT School Day to a few select schools.

Despite these attempts to bring the test to the classroom, universities have already started to announce that they will extend test-optional policies for the next admission cycle. The University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and Cornell University are just a few of the elite colleges that will not be requiring the test.