Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Mar 04, 2022

Rick Hess of EducationWeek interviews a College Board representative about the pending changes to the SAT in a piece titled "What the Digital SAT Will Mean for Students and Educators":


Rick: After all the disruptions of the pandemic and with so many colleges going “test optional,” where does the SAT stand today?

College Board VP of college-readiness assessments Priscilla Rodriguez: When nearly every U.S. college went test optional during the pandemic, millions of students still took the SAT. In fact, participation has grown with the high school class of 2022 compared with the class of 2021. And in the class of 2021, 62 percent of the students who took the SAT participated in our SAT School Day program in which we partner with states, districts, and schools to offer the SAT at no cost to students at their school during the school day. That’s the highest percentage of any class so far.

Rick: What are a couple of the big changes?

Priscilla: The digital SAT will be shorter—about two hours instead of three, with more time per question. The digital test will feature shorter reading passages with one question tied to each, and passages will reflect a wider range of topics that represent the works students read in college. Calculators will be allowed on the entire math section. Students and educators will get scores back in days, instead of weeks.

Rick: How will the changes you’re talking about affect the security of the test?

Priscilla: The changes will make the SAT more secure. With the current paper and pencil SAT, if one test form is compromised, it can mean canceling administrations or canceling scores for a whole group of students. Going digital allows every student to receive a unique test form, so it will be practically impossible to share answers.

Rick: What’s the most important thing for K-12 educators to know about the change?

Priscilla: In the November pilot, 100 percent of the 98 participating educators reported having a positive experience. Educators will no longer have to deal with packing, sorting, or shipping test materials. And with changes that make the SAT shorter and easier to administer, states, districts, and schools will have more options for when, where, and how often they administer the SAT—rather than adhering to a fixed schedule. These improvements are especially important because students from all backgrounds increasingly are taking the SAT during the school day, and independent research shows the benefits of universal school day testing.

The Hill has published an opinion piece by York College professor John Desantis that argues "Moving the SATs online won't restore them to relevance."


The College Board recently announced a decision to shorten the SAT and to offer it in an online format. This decision will not slow down intensifying trends de-emphasizing high-stakes testing. The time has come to abandon high-stakes testing, including the SATs, and to widen our thinking on the concept of “scholastic aptitude.”

While assessments are important tools, many educators also recognize that even the most sophisticated assessments are merely snapshots of student learning. Students’ capacities simply can’t be bound by one measure. Over-reliance on high-stakes assessments, like the SATs, to make predictions about students’ future performance is an example of a common logical fallacy called faulty-generalization in which one draws broad conclusions from a small or misleading set of data.

Policymakers in the preceding decades routinely committed the faulty-generalization fallacy in crafting assessment policy. Many of these outcomes were manifested in K-12 schools as a result of high-stakes testing associated with No Child Left Behind. Two decades later, mounting evidence suggests that these policies have failed in nearly every measurable way, from addressing the achievement gap to improving students’ college and career readiness.

For the first time in decades, the potential exists to change course away from tests like the SATs. That said, testing remains deeply entrenched at every level of our education system, as reflected by President Biden’s decision to resume NCLB-era testing requirements and the recent announcement by the College Board to take the SATs online. Our education system has reached an inflection point: Will the standardized testing regime continue or will we change course?

The Wall Street Journal offers a podcast titled, "Is This the End of the SAT?" featuring the views of Doug Belkin and Dan Robb (head of Admissions at the University of South Carolina Aiken).


Ryan Knutson: One thing wealthier students often have access to that lower income kids don't? Expensive test prep courses.

Douglas Belkin: And that also made it a lot less fair because not everybody can afford to spend a lot of money to get test prep. So the kids who did, it works, these kids got test prep and they did better. And it enabled them to get into better colleges and move through the class rank system in the country. And so you have this situation where colleges are identifying what they would consider the already privileged students and they're getting a leg up to get into schools. And as the country is grappling with this equity issue, the test becomes an emblem of privilege, and an emblem of something that's holding back students as opposed to helping schools find smart students.

Dan Robb: That [the University of California school system recently announcing it will no longer require standardized tests] changes the landscape completely for everyone. It's hard to be a school that says, "We're putting our flag in the ground and saying we're still going to require SAT or ACT." And for instance, in South Carolina, where I am, I can't name one other school that's requiring the SAT at this point in time. So do I want to be the one? Probably not, to be honest with you.

Ryan Knutson: If Dan did require a test, he wouldn't have a lot of company. This year only 24% of us colleges and universities require standardized testing, according to FairTest, a nonprofit that advocates for the test optional approach. The College Board has said that grades and test scores are the best way to evaluate incoming students. So it isn't giving up on the SATs. Last week it announced some major changes to the test in hopes of making it more relevant.

Ryan Knutson: Do you think we'll ever go back?

Dan Robb: I don't. I think there's just too many, too many systems, too many people in higher education, too many students. I think there's essentially a revolt from all constituents on all sides is what I'm saying. I think the colleges are not big fans of it. I think students were never big fans of it. I think a lot of the diversity equity and inclusion people really believe that the exam is fatally flawed. So I don't see there's a whole lot of support out there to be honest for continuing the exam.

The LA Times has published an opinion piece the asserts that while the SAT/ACT have been removed from the University of California's admissions process, a more unfair component still remains: the college essay.


The University of California is rightly concerned about making its student application process as equitable as possible, yet it’s clinging to part of the application that clearly benefits wealthy students.

Not the SAT. No, UC decided months ago to do away with all college entrance exams, despite the well-reasoned report from a faculty task force saying that a new and better test can and should be devised and that admission test scores are a better predictor of college success than grades. Critics of the SAT and its competitor, the ACT, pointed out that scores are closely tied to financial circumstances and family education. Among other things, more affluent students can afford private tutors and multiple test sittings to improve their scores. Add the rampant cheating in foreign countries, and you’ll find little to love about the giant testing organizations.

What UC inexplicably is holding on to, though, is the essay portion of its application, even though a 2021 report from Stanford University found that high-quality essays for UC applicants were even more tightly correlated with family income than the standardized tests.

That makes sense: Unless a parent pays someone to take the test for their child, an extremely rare event despite the Varsity Blues scandal, even high-level SAT tutoring is seldom going to increase scores dramatically. The student still has to know the material.

But essays can be and often are coached and polished by professionals — or just written by them. As a 2019 Times editorial pointed out in 2019: “In 2016, journalist Jia Tolentino wrote in the publication Jezebel about her years supporting herself by charging wealthy families $150 an hour to write or rewrite their teens’ essays.”

The SAT and ACT are the whipping boys of the moment, but some kind of admissions exam might actually be a helpful part of the application process. As California State University’s governing board indicates its intention to drop the SAT from the application process (unlike UC, Cal State does not require essays) and colleges throughout the country consider whether to make their pandemic pause on college entrance exams permanent, it’s time for higher-education leaders to avoid piecemeal demolition of unpopular admissions criteria and take a deep and comprehensive look at what it would take to revamp admissions and create a truly fair method for accepting or rejecting applicants.

Colleges have done almost nothing to stem the influence of high-priced private college admissions consultants whose fees can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. They should at least require students to attest that they prepared their applications without expensive assistance.