Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update:

Matt O'Connor

Jul 24, 2017

A new study on grade inflation co-authored by a College Board senior director and a doctoral student at the University of Georgia has generated a number of news articles. (Note: the study will be published in January).

Scott Jaschik has written a piece about the study titled, "High School Grades: Higher and Higher."


Numerous studies have documented grade inflation in colleges. A study being released today shows that grades are going up in high schools -- in ways that may raise issues for college admissions systems that rely on high school grade point averages. The study also shows that many schools -- especially those educating wealthier students -- are no longer calculating or releasing class ranks, potentially making it more difficult to compare students in an era of grade inflation.

The study finds that the gains in high school GPA raise questions about the ability of colleges to rely on the statistics in college admissions. Further, the study finds that grade inflation in high schools has been most pronounced at high schools with students who are wealthier than average -- and where most students are white.

The study, released today, will be a chapter in Measuring Success: Testing, Grades and the Future of College Admissions, to be published next year by Johns Hopkins University Press. The two authors of the study are Michael Hurwitz, senior director at the College Board, and Jason Lee, a doctoral student at the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia.

"High schools that liberally assign high grades may paradoxically disadvantage some students," the study says. "Such grade inflation blurs the signal of high grades on a transcript, meaning that the students whose performance truly justifies A grades are not easily discernible from students with more modest classroom performance."

And these findings should alarm admissions officials, the study says. "If all transcripts are replete with A grades, without standardized tests, admissions staff would be tasked with the impossible -- using high school GPA to predict whether the student will thrive academically."

USA Today published an article titled "A's on the rise in U.S. report cards, but SAT scores founder."


Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen.

In 1998, it was 38.9%. By last year, it had grown to 47%.

That’s right: Nearly half of America’s Class of 2016 are A students. Meanwhile, their average SAT score fell from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600-point scale — suggesting that those A's on report cards might be fool's gold.

The new findings come courtesy of two researchers: Michael Hurwitz of the College Board, the folks who bring you the SAT; and Jason Lee, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education.

Hurwitz called the rise of the A average "really stunning."

The Hurwitz study (slated to be published in January 2018 as a chapter in a book related to college admissions decisions) furthers the College Board's narrative that SAT scores are a universal benchmark that can offset grade inflation and help to determine a student's objective readiness to succeed in college.

CBS News had a video segment on the grade inflation study.

In an article recently published in the New York Times, "Simple Way to Help Low-Income Students: Make Everyone Take SAT or ACT", a University of Michigan education professor cited the results of a study into the impact of mandatory statewide ACT testing in Michigan.


For every 1,000 students who took a college exam when it was optional, and scored high enough to attend a selective college, another 230 high scorers appeared once the test was mandatory. For low-income students, the effect was larger: For every 1,000 students who scored well on the optional test, an additional 480 did so on the mandatory test.

Universal exams cannot, by themselves, close gaps between poor and rich students in college attendance. But in Michigan, it has produced small increases, especially at four-year colleges and particularly among disadvantaged students. The story is similar in Maine, Illinois and Colorado.

Professor [Joshua M]. Hyman [who led the study into the results of Michigan's mandatory ACT policy] calculates that at a cost of less than $50 per student, a universal testing program is one of the least expensive ways to increase college attendance. Further, if the SAT or ACT replaces the standardized test that states require in public schools, it need not take up any additional instructional time, a key concern of testing opponents.

The underlying study by Hyman is here.

Education Week also published an article on the same Michigan study.

This recently-released study (with an interactive chart) found that students with higher SAT scores had less student loan debt on average.


The data show a correlation between higher SAT scores and lower average student debt. What’s more, higher test scores correlate with higher average earning potential in the years following graduation.

For anyone still considering postsecondary education, we recommend taking that extra practice test or attending after-school SAT prep classes. Earning a higher SAT score will, at the very least, offer you further options to select a school that fits your personal and financial requirements.

An article from IndyStar, "Why high schoolers are still told to take the SAT/ACT as some colleges drop requirements", offers some perspectives on the impacts and limitations of test optional policies.


Martin Kirkwood, director of college counseling at Guerin Catholic High School, is also skeptical that the optional test scores will greatly change who is accepted into these colleges, although he said it potentially could help encourage some students who otherwise may have thought they couldn't get in.

"I do think that the intent to allow students who don’t have access to test prep to have options is important, and there is a large population out there," he said.

The greatest benefit of the new policy Kirkwood sees is reducing the pressure college-bound students feel.

"Most importantly," Kirkwood said, "I think it takes the pressure off the students psychologically to know that they have a future no matter how they test."

Starting next year in South Carolina, students will have a choice of taking either the ACT or SAT at state expense. This decision is apparently unrelated to severe test score reporting problems that occurred in SC this year for ACT exams administered online. Student have been waiting 4 months for ACT scores in some cases. Due to the recent implementation of a statewide contract, South Carolina (which had been rather evenly divided between SAT and ACT in previous years) had 51,000 ACT-takers among the graduating high school class of 2016, versus 22,000 SAT-takers.

Missouri has elected to no longer offer the ACT free to all students. This decision appears to be motivated by $4 million in cuts to the state testing budget. Missouri had 68,000 ACT-takers among the HS class of 2016, versus only 2,000 for the SAT.

Three more colleges have adopted test optional policies:

Dominican College in NY (US News "Rank Not Published" among Regional Universities North, 1550 undergrads, 71% acceptance rate; SAT/ACT 25th-75th percentiles of 780-960)

High Point University in NC (US News #1 in Regional Colleges South; 4,400 undergrads; 72% acceptance rate; SAT/ACT 25th-75th percentiles of 1012-1196)

University of Evansville in IN (US News #8 in Regional Universities Midwest; 2,300 undergrads; 70% acceptance rate; SAT/ACT 25th-75th percentiles of 1140-1360)