Taking On the Testing Organizations

Admissions group issues statement questioning the College Board and ACT on plans for the fall and urging colleges "to reassess their admission criteria."

May 4, 2020
 

The National Association for College Admission Counseling Wednesday afternoon took issue with the way the College Board and ACT have made plans for testing to resume in the fall. The association also called on colleges to reassess "their admission criteria in light of the overwhelming challenges faced by many students."

The College Board and ACT have canceled several recent testing dates, but both have vowed to resume testing in the fall. If schools are not fully open in or by the fall, the testing organizations have said they would offer an at-home version of the SAT and ACT. In addition, numerous colleges have gone test optional during this period -- some just for a year, and others permanently. These include the University of California and the California State University systems, Swarthmore College, Pomona College, and Cornell University.

The NACAC statement -- using strong language -- suggested the testing bodies have not considered all of the issues and have not been talking to admissions counselors.

"We appreciate that public health measures have forced the cancellation of test administrations, disadvantaging students wishing to test this semester; and we understand that ACT and College Board must plan ahead in the event schools aren’t able to open in the fall," the statement said. "But we’re also mindful that practitioners -- both counselors and admission officers -- have raised legitimate questions about the effects of these adaptive testing measures, particularly on those who are already at risk of dropping out of the college pipeline -- our low-income, first-generation students. Their needs must be kept in the forefront of our minds at all times, as they are the most susceptible to harm in every aspect of this pandemic."

The statement goes on to detail some of those concerns:

  • "The digital divide between low-income and upper-income students is persistent and well-documented. The homes of low-income students are less likely to have the internet access and devices needed to participate in online testing. We cannot ignore the fact that, if schools do not reopen by fall, requiring students to take standardized exams at home will introduce a known risk factor for many low-income students that will further jeopardize educational equity and raise legitimate questions about the fairness of admission practices in this cycle."
  • "Students with disabilities also face unprecedented challenges in completing schoolwork and participating in standardized tests, particularly if they require accommodations."
  • "Little is known about the reliability of admission test scores taken in a home setting … As such, the potential for legitimate questions about the reliability of test scores taken outside of a monitored test center is high in the current context."
  • "Colleges are also currently without information, aside from general assurances, regarding the extent to which home-administered tests will maintain validity and comparability with other test administrations."

"Finally, NACAC is concerned that, even accounting for the crisis in which we are all immersed, our members believe the testing organizations have failed to communicate openly and fully with the professionals who are vital to the administration of the tests -- school counselors, college admission officers, and their professional association. NACAC and its members have felt blindsided by recent testing organization decisions, and are left to answer questions from students, families, and other stakeholders on the behalf of the organizations with little to no solid information," the statement said.

In addition, it said, "The College Board recently scheduled the September SAT administration during the NACAC conference, potentially curtailing or depriving thousands of school counselors of NACAC’s annual national professional development event."

The statement asks, "For the 2020-21 admission cycle, NACAC is asking its member colleges and universities to reassess their admission criteria in light of the overwhelming challenges faced by many students. Do the criteria -- test scores, grades in college prep courses, strength of curriculum, and the like -- stand up to educational scrutiny? Are they reliable? And perhaps most important of all, do they preserve access for all students, including low-income, first-generation, and other vulnerable students who are already facing increased threats to their physical, emotional, and economic well-being amid this global health crisis?"

ACT declined to comment.

The College Board issued a statement that said, "We know the virus will disproportionately impact low-income and underrepresented students, so our response to this crisis is especially focused on providing opportunities for these groups, including ensuring students have access to technology. We have supported more than 10,000 students by establishing a dedicated, 100-person customer service team; partnering with DonorsChoose and Amazon; and connecting them to local efforts already in place through their school district. In the unlikely event that schools do not reopen this fall, we would work to ensure that at-home SAT testing is accessible to all students who want to test. We know no educators can close the digital divide completely, but we will continue to build partnerships to address the challenge."

The statement added, "We've sought the input of our members and regularly have communicated with them about how we will advance our mission in response to the spread of the coronavirus, including hosting more than a dozen webinars and sending emails that have reached hundreds of thousands of educators. Extensive information and the latest updates on Advanced Placement Exams and the SAT can be found here."

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