Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Sep 18, 2021

Eric Hoover of The Chronicle of Higher Education covers the evolving use of SAT/ACT scores by US News in the formulation of the publication's Best Colleges rankings.


Though more and more colleges are dropping their ACT and SAT requirements, test scores still count in the closely watched college rankings many folks love to hate. But that might not hold true for much longer.

U.S. News & World Report, which published its latest Best Colleges guide on Monday, once again factored incoming students’ average test scores into its measure of “student excellence” at each ranked college despite recent calls for the publication to remove the ACT and SAT from its methodology. This year, standardized-test scores were weighted at 5 percent of an institution’s overall ranking, the same as last year (down from 7.75 percent previously).

But U.S. News did change one part of its methodology in an acknowledgment of the growing number of test-optional colleges. It’s known as the 75-percent rule. Previously, the publication reduced the weight of the ACT and SAT by 15 percent for test-optional colleges with fewer than three-quarters of incoming students submitting scores. “The lack of data, for 25 percent of students or more, likely means the ACT or SAT score is not representative of the entire class,” Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News, explained in a 2016 blog post. Some enrollment officials have said the policy — which can lower a college’s ranking — penalizes institutions that don’t require standardized tests.

This year, U.S. News lowered the threshold to 50 percent: Colleges received “full credit for their SAT/ACT performance” if at least half of their incoming students submitted a score. Just 4 percent of nearly 1,500 ranked colleges did not meet that 50-percent threshold. But “many” colleges, Morse wrote in an email, fell somewhere between 50 percent and 75 percent, though he and a U.S. News spokeswoman declined to say how many “many” was.

US News recently released its 2022 edition of its still-influential Best Colleges rankings.

Jay Mathews of The Washington Post offers one way to de-couple SAT/ACT scores from the college admissions process while potentially improving both college readiness among students and the ability of colleges to determine which applicants are more likely to succeed in an article titled, "Cure for loss of SAT/ACT tests: Stop banning high school kids from college courses."


The rapid decline in the use of the SAT and ACT college entrance exams has brought cries of anguish from parents and educators who think this will reduce student readiness for college.

Melissa Korn, higher education reporter for the Wall Street Journal, identified three possible changes that might make up for the loss of those tests — more emphasis on report card grades and course difficulty, new and better college entrance exams, or randomizing college admissions so qualified minority and low-income applicants get a better shot.

Such suggestions are interesting but don’t address a key problem in our high schools. Their courses usually don’t do enough to prepare students for college.

I have an idea that would both give college admissions officers a better measure of preparedness and raise the level of high school instruction. Why not open college-level programs like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate to all high school students? That would give them a chance to prepare for college by doing actual college work.

AP and IB have been around a long time. The programs began in the middle of the last century with upper-class motives. AP was designed to give the best high school students a chance to earn college credit and accelerate their studies when they got to the ivy halls of higher education. IB was created to give children of diplomats and international business executives a high standard of instruction in the hodgepodge of private schools that catered to such people.

AP and IB were long considered too tough for most students. But in the 1980s some AP and IB teachers, even in low-income neighborhoods, began to show that college-level instruction could significantly raise the college readiness of their students, even if they didn’t pass the three-to-five-hour AP and IB exams. AP and IB test results don’t arrive until summer so they don’t affect report card grades.

I have been watching closely several districts that opened AP and IB to all two decades ago. They are doing well. It has been a long time since I heard a parent complain that the courses were too difficult or that the low-income students who enroll in them were slowing down instruction. Those districts have AP and IB teachers who love surprising students with how much they can learn from courses that demand critical thinking and from exams that are written and graded by independent experts and thus can’t be dumbed down.

The SAT and the ACT did little to improve high school instruction. Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, told me that “there is no question that AP and IB exams — at least the portions that are not multiple choice — are closer to the types of assessments students face in college than the ACT/SAT bubble-filling experience is.”

Only about half the time on AP tests — and usually no time on IB tests — is spent on multiple-choice questions.

Schaeffer’s organization leads the effort to end reliance on the SAT and the ACT in college admissions. He said people have been asking him if AP and IB might play a more significant role in the admissions process of selective schools. He said that seems likely but cautioned that “it would be important for higher education officials to evaluate applicants’ coursework in the context of what was offered at the high schools they attended.”

The widespread adoption of test optional policies and the potentially watershed decision by the University of California to no longer use SAT/ACT scores in its admissions process will have a significant impact on the college admissions landscape. Some observers have raised concerns that Asian-Americans (who have the highest SAT/ACT scores as a group) might lose a crucial admissions advantage if test scores continue to be marginalized or dropped. One such voice, Jay Caspian Kang, wrote a recent op-ed for The New York Times:


The U.C. schools weren’t the only ones to do away with the SAT and ACT in the past few years. Two-thirds of U.S. colleges and universities went test-optional or test-blind during the pandemic, which accelerated a trend over the past decade that has seen schools, from Ivy League universities to commuter colleges, drop the two tests, which defined so much of academic life of the past 50 or so years. In an article in The Times last year, the chairman of the U.C. Board of Regents said, “I have talked to leaders at other public universities over the last couple of months and would not be surprised if others looked at this question as well.” If this trend continues, the majority of four-year universities in the country will permanently go test-optional.

Given that the gap between Asian and white students’ SAT scores continues to grow (100 points, as of 2018), it’s worth also asking who really benefits from dropping the SAT and ACT. Is it really underrepresented minorities? Or is it white students who have to compete with high-scoring Asian students?

The Orange County Register examines evolving student views on college entrance exams:


For decades, standardized test scores have been a key benchmark in college admissions decisions. But now, high school students must decide whether they should invest the study time and money in taking the SAT and ACT exams or potentially miss out on a way to shine among applicants.

While there has been discussion for some time over the fairness of using the standardized tests in the admissions process, the need to not gather students together in testing rooms during the pandemic made eliminating their use last year a simple decision for most in higher education.

The UC and Cal State systems recently announced they will continue to disregard standardized test scores in admissions or scholarship decisions, but many private schools say they have made submitting scores optional.

This gray area in the admissions process has left many high schoolers confused about whether they should take the exams.

For Orange High School senior Melissa Medina, who is mainly applying to UC and Cal State schools, the decision wasn’t too difficult. The colleges she’s aiming for won’t consider her scores even if she took the exams.

“When I heard schools were keeping things test-optional, I was relieved,” Medina said. “I’ve always thought that standardized testing limits the potential of many students, and it places labels on them. Just because you aren’t a good test taker doesn’t mean you’re not capable of doing more.”

But the decision isn’t so easy for those interested in private or out-of-state colleges. When universities say they’re “test-optional,” do they really mean it? If schools are using scores if they get them to evaluate applications, there’s still pressure to take the exams and keep open options for their future education, students said.

Medina said she initially planned to rent a book to study with until she heard providing scores would be optional. Now, she uses her study time to focus more on community volunteering and writing her personal essays.

“Now that I don’t have to worry about test scores, I can really just show who I am. I can show what kind of student I am in other areas,” she said. “That says much more than just a score.”

But, Orange Lutheran High School senior Adam Hewitt was bummed the public California colleges aren’t considering standardized test scores in their admission decisions.

Hewitt earned a near-perfect score on the ACT. Though he’s happy with his GPA, he said “it’s not as high as some other kids’” and was hoping to make up for it with his ACT score.

“I feel like I’ve kind of been at a disadvantage for that, but I also completely understand why it’s optional. I fully support it,” Hewitt said. “Because I have friends who I know could do well on it and they weren’t able even to take it.”

Scores will not be looked at when evaluating applications, UC Irvine Executive Director of Admissions Dale Leaman said.

“We don’t see their scores at all – no matter what they do or what they’ve taken – when we make our admissions decision,” Leaman said. “The only time you would see those scores is down the line after they’ve accepted our offer of admission.”

SAT and ACT scores may still be used to place students in classes or to satisfy general education requirements, Leaman said.

The Cal State system has suspended the use of SAT and ACT scores for making admissions decisions until at least fall 2023, spokeswoman Toni Molle said. It may also use scores to place enrolled students in courses.

“The CSU is currently evaluating the future use of standardized test scores in first-time freshman admissions with internal and external stakeholders,” Molle said.

The California Institute of Technology recently announced that it will not only extend its test optional policy for another year, but will not consider SAT/ACT scores if submitted. This is especially significant due to Caltech's long-time position near the very top of the list of US colleges and universities for freshman SAT/ACT scores.


Caltech has extended its moratorium on the requirement of SAT and ACT test scores as part of the undergraduate admissions process for one additional year. In addition, the Institute will not consider those test scores, if submitted.

This decision lengthens the two-year moratorium announced by the Institute in June 2020 to three years. As with the original moratorium, the extension is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on access to the exams for students worldwide. The first moratorium was in effect for students who applied to Caltech for first-year admission in Fall 2021 and Fall 2022. This resolution is relevant to those first-year applicants who seek admission to Caltech for Fall 2023.

"Caltech's thorough evaluation of academic preparedness has always had to go more deeply into applicants' credentials than just the examination of standardized test scores," says Jared Leadbetter, professor of environmental microbiology and chair of the first-year admissions committee that recommended the extension to the Institute's faculty board and senior leadership.

Parents of students among the 800 Chicago Public School test-takers who had their SAT test scores canceled due to the issuing of the wrong test booklets are seeking redress from the US Department of Education:


Parents of CPS students who were told their SAT scores no longer count due to a booklet error have asked the US Department of Education to intervene.

In late July, nearly 800 Chicago Public Schools students were told they were given the wrong SAT booklet this past spring, rendering their scores invalid.

CPS blamed Lincoln Park High School, Bogan Computer Technical High School, Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep and Benito Juarez Community Academy for the error.

“Just when you thought they couldn’t get any more incompetent, there comes up something else,” said CPS parent William Quinlan.

So Quinlan decided, on behalf of CPS parents affected by the mistake, to ask the U.S. Department of Education to intervene. The College Board has refused to accept the test scores due to students receiving the same booklet on the second date of testing as those who sat for the SAT on the first day.