This is big news… seriously big news

By Lee Shulman Bierer, College Admissions Strategies

It has already been a momentous week for the world with the exit of President Trump and the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. But, in the world of college admissions – the news that the SAT is dropping the SAT Subject Tests and the SAT essay is nothing less than jaw-dropping.

WHY ARE THEY ELIMINATING THESE TESTS?

The press release from College Board states that their concern is to reduce pressure on students, but savvy journalists and cynics among us believe that this is part of a plan to reduce costs and push more students to take APs. According to Compass Prep, www.compassprep.com, “The Subject Tests and Essay have been on a steady decline for more than a decade and became even less supportable during the pandemic. College Board is focusing resources on their popular AP program and on the race against ACT to move testing online in ways that are secure, equitable, and more efficient.”

Here is a graphic Compass shared of the downturn in the number of SAT Subject Tests administered and the increase in AP testing over the last 20 years:

Was this done for cost-cutting purposes or for compassion for students? 

Compass Prep states, “So was this a compassionate act aimed at simplifying the lives of students? Or was this a pragmatic decision to cut one’s worst losses? It was both. Today’s news represents at once a move away from an unpopular under-performer and a step toward better nourishing a more tolerated product line with greater potential to thrive. Everybody wins, perhaps? It just feels like the College Board wins a little more.

Here’s what College Board, who administers the SAT and SAT Subject Tests shared on its website:

Does this mean that my Subject Test registration is canceled?
There will not be any future U.S. administrations of the Subject Tests. International students will have the opportunity to take Subject Tests in May and June 2021 before the program is sunset altogether. Students can work with College Board to change a Subject Test registration to an SAT registration or receive a refund.

When will colleges update their policies to reflect the cancelation of the Subject Tests and Essay?
It may take time for colleges to react to January 19th’s news. Many colleges do not reevaluate testing requirements until after they complete the admission cycle in the spring. Students in the class of 2022 or later should be aware that language about Subject Tests and the Essay on college websites may be outdated for some time. Colleges that currently utilize the Subject Tests and/or the Essay will need to articulate whether those students who have already taken them are encouraged to submit them.

Will the elimination of Subject Tests mean more interest in AP exams?
Yes, likely so, especially within certain niches. Even with zero U.S. colleges requiring Subject Tests, more than 400,000 were still taken by the class of 2020. This energy has to go somewhere. Some of it will flow to heightened interest in APs and more pressure on schools to make AP testing opportunities available to students. While more than 80% of US high schools offer AP classes, there are thousands of high schools that do not. Some of these schools lack the resources to do so, while others have such an abundance of resources that they do not feel the need to bother. The latter group — predominantly highly competitive independent schools — finds the AP framework constricting. Subject Tests served as an option for non-AP students to demonstrate knowledge to colleges. Without that outlet, schools may face renewed questions from parents about APs.

Can I take an AP instead of a Subject Test?
Some colleges recommend that students provide standardized test scores such as Subject Tests or APs. However, the content and expectations on the AP test are different.  Students should consider whether an AP test — especially when unconnected from an AP course — makes sense.

Currently, students can search the AP ledger at https://apcourseaudit.inflexion.org/ledger/ to find local schools offering the exams that might be able to accommodate test-takers from other schools. The deadline to register for a May exam was pushed back to March 12th this year due to the pandemic.

Will ACT eliminate the Writing test?
ACT may not want to be seen as immediately following College Board’s lead, but it faces the same reality — an essay test that was already struggling prior to the pandemic. ACT’s business is even more dependent on state-funded testing, so we expect that it will need time to consult with its partners before announcing a decision. Compass’s recommendation is for U.S. students to skip any optional Writing test.

We are discontinuing the optional SAT Essay.

This decision recognizes that there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of essay writing. At the same time, writing remains essential to college readiness, and the SAT will continue to measure writing and editing skills. The tasks on the SAT Reading and Writing and Language tests are among the most effective and predictive parts of the SAT. Students can take the SAT with Essay through the June 2021 SAT administration.

After June 2021, the Essay will only be available in states where it’s required for SAT School Day administrations for accountability purposes. Students registered for the SAT with Essay this spring can cancel the Essay portion at any time, free of charge.

We are investing in a more flexible SAT—a streamlined, digitally delivered test that meets the evolving needs of students and higher education.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being innovative and adaptive to what lies ahead. We are committed to making the SAT a more flexible tool, and we are making substantial investments to do so. We’re consulting with our members in K–12 and higher education and will have more to share about that work later this spring.

There’s still a clear demand from students to take the SAT as a way to show their strengths to colleges. Most immediately, we’re working to provide as many opportunities as possible for students in the class of 2022 to take the SAT this year, including by:

  • Allocating seats that would have gone to students taking Subject Tests to students who want to take the SAT.
  • Being prepared to expand capacity for existing administrations and add administrations in the fall if the pandemic continues to impact testing this spring.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com

 

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