‘Fiske Guide’ to Drop SAT and ACT Scores

Author characterizes use of average scores this year as promoting “inaccurate and misleading data.” Far fewer students are taking the tests.

March 22, 2021

The Fiske Guide to Colleges is dropping the reporting of average SAT and ACT scores for colleges it reviews.

Edward B. Fiske, editor of the guide, said recent trends have called into question the accuracy and validity of admissions test score averages.

“We take pride in our reputation as a trusted source of reliable admissions information,” he said. “Rather than publish inaccurate and misleading data, we have decided to omit any reporting of score ranges for the foreseeable future. To do otherwise would be a disservice to our readers.”

Fiske is the first of the big rankings to announce how it will deal with the fact that fewer people are taking and reporting test scores than in the past.

U.S. News & World Report said in June that it would rank test-blind colleges (colleges that do not look at test scores), but the magazine has not said how it will do so. The test scores count for 5 percent of the total ranking score for national universities. A spokeswoman for U.S. News said Wednesday that it "hasn't made any announcements" about the methodology it will use this fall. The 2021 rankings (released last fall) were still based on a year in which most students submitted scores -- at least at colleges that require the tests.

Only 44 percent of those who applied to college through the Common Application through Feb. 15 submitted SAT or ACT scores. That represents a substantial decline from last year (comparing only colleges that used the Common App both years), when the total through Feb. 15, 2020, was 77 percent.

While the Fiske Guide traditionally included SAT or ACT scores, it isn't a ranking in the traditional way of U.S. News.

"I don't rank them -- 1, 2 3, 4, 5. That would be dishonest," Fiske said.

Rather, he ranks the 325 colleges in his book on a variety of factors, such as academics, social life, etc. In some ways, he simply included the test scores among the data. (He conducts an annual survey of colleges and a survey of students at each college in the book.)

Will the book restore test score averages in the future, if more students take the exams next year? "I have no idea," said Fiske. But he stressed that there are lots of questions about the SAT and ACT -- fairness, disadvantage to low-income and Black and Latinx students. "I don't anticipate that they will return."

Fiske, former education editor of The New York Times, said that the change will take place in the 2022 edition of his book, which will be published July 6, 2021.

Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, supports the decision not to include test scores in the guide.

"With most U.S. colleges and universities not requiring ACT/SAT results from current high school seniors and juniors -- and more than half of all four-year schools now permanently test-optional -- it makes sense for the nation's most respected higher education admissions reference book to remove references to these outdated metrics," he said.

The College Board did not respond to a request for comment.

ACT released this statement: "COVID has wreaked havoc on almost every aspect of the education and enrollment management ecosystem. That said, our research indicates that a large proportion of students who applied to one of the 320 colleges found in the Fiske Guide submitted an ACT test as part of their application portfolio. Regardless of whether score ranges are reported in a resource like the Fiske Guide, students will continue to seek ways to make their applications stand out. This fact has never been truer than it is today. The ACT serves this purpose as students find themselves in a crowded field of applicants, most of whom appear on paper (in transcripts with HSGPA alone and/or pass-fail reports due to pandemic effects) to have similar ability and potential."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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