Education Industry History Standardized Testing

Farewell to the SAT! We Hope.

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The SAT is in trouble. Its business model is threatened by the more than 1,000 colleges and universities that no longer require it for admission. Many more higher education institutions dropped the SAT due to the pandemic. The SAT is big business. It collects more than $1 billion each year in revenue. Its CEO, David Coleman, was architect of the Common Core standards, with a background at McKinsey. His salary is about $1 million a year. He achieved notoriety when he promoted the Common Core and came out against personal essays; he told an audience of educators in New York State that when you grow up, no one “gives a sh—“ about how you feel. They want facts. His Common Core curriculum insisted on the study of more non-fiction, which drove down the teaching of literature.

Some relevant history: The SAT was created in the 1920s as a replacement for the traditional College Boards, exams that were written and graded by high school teachers and college professors. The leaders of the College Board decided to adopt the SAT on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day, when it was clear that the nation was entering the War. The author of the standardized, machine-scored SAT was a Princeton psychologist named Carl C. Brigham. He wrote a notoriously racist book called A Study of American Intelligence, in which he used the I.Q. tests of World War 1 to compare the various races. Brigham was a pioneer in the development of I.Q. testing; like most psychologists at the time, he believed that I.Q. was innate, fixed, and inherited, rather than a product of environment and .educational opportunity

Coleman’s latest move to protect profitability involved scrapping subject tests and the essay question.

Critics saw the changes not as an attempt to streamline the test-taking process for students, as the College Board portrayed the decision, but as a way of placing greater importance on Advanced Placement tests, which the board also produces, as a way for the organization to remain relevant and financially viable.

“The SAT and the subject exams are dying products on their last breaths, and I’m sure the costs of administering them are substantial,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, the vice provost for enrollment management at Oregon State University...

In recent years, the SAT has come under increasing fire from critics who say that standardized testing exacerbates inequities across class and racial lines. Some studies have shown that high school grades are an equal or better predictor of college success.

More than 1,000 four-year colleges did not require applicants to submit standardized test scores before the pandemic, and the number rose — at least temporarily — as the coronavirus forced testing centers to close and made it difficult for many students to safely take the test.

Perhaps the biggest hit came in May, when, following a lawsuit from a group of Black and Hispanic students who said the tests discriminated against them, the influential University of California system decided to phase out SAT and ACT requirements for its 10 schools, which include some of the nation’s most popular campuses.

The College Board acknowledged that the coronavirus had played a role in the changes announced on Tuesday, saying in a statement that the pandemic had “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce the demands on students.”

But David Coleman, the chief executive of the College Board, a nonprofit organization that in the past has reported more than $1 billion a year in revenue, said that financial concerns were not behind the decisions, and that despite the growing number of schools making the SAT optional, demand for the test was still “stronger than some would expect.”

He said the organization’s goal was not to get more students to take A.P. courses and tests, but to eliminate redundant exams and reduce the burden on high school students. “Anything that can reduce unnecessary anxiety and get out of the way is of huge value to us,” he said.

Some experts, though, said eliminating the subject matter tests could have the opposite effect, increasing pressure on students to take A.P. courses and exams, especially in their junior year, so credits can be submitted in time for college admissions decisions.

Saul Geiser, a senior associate at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, said the move would “worsen the perverse emphasis on test prep and test-taking skills at the expense of regular classroom learning…”

At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, officials dropped the SAT essay requirement in 2016 because they saw it as an undue burden on students, including an added fee, said Mike Drish, the university’s director of first-year admissions.

Mr. Drish said the university evaluated students’ writing preparedness based on their grades in English classes, as well as teacher recommendations and essays submitted as part of the admissions process.

For more on the uncertain future of the SAT, read this story in Inside Higher Ed.

Scott Jas him, a veteran reporter about higher education, writes:

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...

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.”

A high school counselor who asked not to be identified said, “My small-d democratic side says, goodbye tests, good riddance to chasing a test score, goodbye to a zillion-dollar test prep industry, goodbye to a built-in advantage to resourced kids and schools.” She is quick to add, though, that even if that happened, and the role of the College Board shrank, there would still be a need for changes in admissions to bring students from diverse backgrounds into higher education.

The other side for her is that “tests give the illusion of a meritocracy,” and that parents — at least of the wealthy — love tests. Eliminating the SAT would be very difficult in that environment, she said.

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