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We are committed to providing you with the most up-to-date resources and announcements from the college admissions testing landscape. Here are some of the top headlines from this past month:
The College Board and Personal Data
Summary: The Washington Post re-posted an article from the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy written by the parent of a Colorado student who was required by her state to take the PSAT 8/9. The parent reported that the answer sheet asked personal questions about the student (“student’s name, grade level, sex, date of birth, student ID number or Social Security number, race/ethnic group, military relation, home address, email address, mobile phone, grade point average, courses taken, and parents’ highest level of education”) but did not indicate that answering many of these questions was optional. The article goes on to argue that the parental consent should be—and perhaps is—necessary for the College Board to collect such data on minors. Finally, the author raises concerns that some of the information collected by the College Board is licensed for a fee to colleges, scholarship organizations, and others. The College Board responded with a statement on data privacy. You can read both articles below.
What this means: Privacy debates are all the rage right now with changes at the federal level related to data gathering by internet providers and a growing problems around hacking and identity theft. Investigating how student data—especially the data of minor students—is collected, used, sold, and safeguarded feeds into this discussion. It’s particularly important for students in the college application process as they weigh how much and what data to share with potential schools. Deciding which data to share and which questions to answer on test registration forms should be discussed with a college counselor who knows how your answers may affect your individual school and scholarship search.
How the SAT and PSAT Collect Personal Data on Students—and What the College Board Does with It (Washington Post)
Our Commitment to Student Data Privacy (College Board)
Big Data and College Admissions
Summary: In this three-part series, The Atlantic provides an in-depth look at the use of student data in college recruitment. In this first installment in its three-part series on Big Data and the college search, The Atlantic looks at how colleges use students’ personal data to target their marketing. In Part 2, the article describes how schools are going beyond simply buying more student data from the College Board and ACT and instead are using algorithms like those used by Spotify, Netflix, and Amazon to vary their marketing pitches while also targeting students who will not only apply but also accept admissions offers and then ultimately succeed at that school. In Part 3, The Atlantic asks questions about how this deep data dive will affect the changing landscape of admissions as the graduating cohort of American students becomes more diverse (ethnically and economically).
What this means: This entire series is a fascinating look at data and college marketing. It also speaks volumes about how the data students give about themselves on the SAT and ACT shape the college admissions world. Well worth the read!
The Test-Optional War Heats Up
Summary: Washington Post notes the rising number of test-optional colleges and universities despite recent reports by both the College Board and ACT that argue that going test optional isn’t ideal. In the past year, both the ACT and College Board have argued publicly that their test scores are valid predictors of college success and should be used in conjunction with GPAs in college admissions decision-making. Both also argue that test-optional policies do not lead to greater diversity among admitted students (a common argument schools use to go test optional). The Washington Post points out that there are weaknesses in both group’s arguments: from bad statistical analysis in the ACT report to mischaracterizing test-optional schools as looking at GPAs only in the case of the College Board’s report.
What this means: The latest salvo in the Big Tests vs. Test Optional war. Looks like there’s a bit of “data massaging” going on on both sides of the issue. The College Board is right to critique the breath of Fair Test’s college list but it can’t explain away the rising number of test-optional schools, the primary point of the recent Washington Post articles.
The List of Test-Optional Colleges and Universities Keeps Growing—Despite College Board’s Latest Jab (Washington Post)
The Complete List of Test-Optional Colleges and Universities, as of Now (Washington Post)
The Facts about Test-Optional Policies (College Board)
More Information, More Informed Decisions: Why Test-Optional Policies Do Not Benefit Intuitions or Students (ACT)
LSAT Takers Up
Summary: The number of students taking the LSAT in September, December, and February was up, but applications to law schools are down 1.9% this year. Possible reasons for the discrepancy: “Some students might be taking the LSAT multiple times, or students might decide not to apply to law school because they are disappointed with their scores. And some students who take the test might simply decide that law school isn’t right for them.”
What this means: With the recent announcement by Harvard that it will accept GRE scores for law school admissions and the possibility that other schools may follow suit, we expect that LSAT participation may actually drop in the coming years despite this recent increase.
SAT Practice Test 8 Released
Summary: The College Board released a new practice test on its site last week. This is the 8th version of the new SAT. Students can download the test, answer key, and answer explanations, and they can score the exam using the College Board’s app.
What this means: According to a College Board rep at the recent Mid-Atlantic States College Board Forum, this exam will be the last test released for some time. According to the rep, the College Board plans to cap the number of full-length exams featured on the site at 8 in order to avoid overwhelming students. The College Board also plans to release new exams in the future (and retire some of the older exams on the site as they do so) but does not have a public timeline for this plan. Exam 8 is a copy of the January 2017 official exam.
LSAT Pilots Digital Test Version
Summary: The Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, will be administering a digital version of the test for the first time in May. A group of 1,000 people will take the test on Samsung tablets during the May 20 administration, and the scores will NOT be used for law school admissions. Students taking this pilot test are only doing so for “fun” or practice. The test registration is free for volunteers. The digital test is offered at 20 test sites across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and it will be the same length and structure as the paper test. This will be the first time a digital LSAT is tested on such a large group across the country.
What this means: If the LSAT moves to a digital exam, the test will join the ranks of other graduate exams (MCAT, GMAT, GRE), all of which are administered by computer. We expect that the LSAT will eventually move in this direction given the industry-wide trend towards embracing digital exams (ACT international sites will go digital in the fall, and SAT looks to be digital within five years). It also may help the LSAT remain competitive given the increasing pressure on law schools to consider GRE in place of LSAT. Note that the registration deadline for this digital pilot exam has already passed.
Test Prep Across the Divide
Summary: In this op-ed, a high school student from Flint, Michigan discusses how different the world of test prep he experienced at a summer program at Phillips Exeter was compared to the culture back home. As a first-generation college student from a community where many students are behind in college readiness, the author notes that the wealthy and accomplished students he came into contact with that summer “approached studying for the SAT with a near-professional intensity that was alien.” While his peers at home rarely took the PSAT and often didn’t study for the SAT, the wealthier students “train[ed] for standardized tests with the intensity of an athlete.” The author notes that it came down to the fact that these students “seemed to have access to a formula for success that had been kept from the rest of us,” one that tends to perpetuate the socio-economic achievement gap.
What this means: This student is right. Those who excel at the SAT and ACT or not inherently “smarter” or “better test takers” than others. They work at it, and they work at it with a sense of professionalism and intensity. This student is also right that this fact isn’t often communicated to those without access to excellent college counseling, though they need it most.
How I Learned to Take the SAT Like a Rich Kid (New York Times)