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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:

ADHD and Testing Accommodations

Summary: Ed Week reports on a recent study into the effect of testing accommodations for students with ADHD. The study looked at Maryland students in grades 3–8 with diagnosed ADHD who were given one of five common accommodations: extra time, frequent breaks, reduced distractions in the testing room, sections read aloud, and calculators. The study found that none of these accommodations resulted in the students earning better reading or math scores than their peers. The researchers could not conclude whether such accommodations simply don’t help students or if students don’t know how to use them effectively. More research is still needed.

What this means: With increasing numbers of students taking the SAT, ACT, and other standardized exams with accommodations for ADHD, a better understanding of how best to help these students is essential. There’s absolutely no indication that the SAT, ACT, and other test administrators are looking at studies like this, but it’s possible that more research in the future could affect accommodation rules years down the line. For now, no changes are in the works.

The data does stress that importance of teaching students in test prep how to effectively use their accommodations. Knowing on the ACT which sections to use your extra time on or when to call for a medical break on the SAT can maximize the performance of a student with accommodations.

Study: Students With ADHD Not Helped by Common Test Accommodations (Ed Week)

New Allegations of SAT Cheating in Asia

Summary: In what now seems to be an almost monthly occurrence, Reuters has a new story about cheating in Asia. In this story, Reuters reports that New Oriental Education and Technology Group, Inc., one of the “best-known companies” in China has been “regularly provid[ing] items from the tests to clients shortly after the exams are administered. Because material from past SATs is typically reused on later exams, the items New Oriental is distributing could provide test-takers with an unfair advantage.” These items include essay topics and reading passages. New Oriental also seems to have shared past questions from TOEFL as well, such as speaking and essay prompts. (You might recognize the name New Oriental from a story earlier in December about how the organization helped write student application essays and teachers’ letters of recommendation.) The major problem: New Oriental is a partner of ETS, the company that owns TOEFL and provides SAT security. Currently, New Oriental is ETS’s “official provider of TOEFL online practice tests in China.”

What this means: This story only confirms what we already know: the SAT has to find a way to contain the cheating. Look for a shake up at New Oriental and ETS as they look to iron out what appears to be a very problematic business relationship.

Chinese Education Giant Helps Its Students Game the SAT (Reuters)

ACT Under Scrutiny by U.S. Department of Education

Summary: Wisconsin and Wyoming recently received notification from the U.S. Department of Education that their petitions to use the ACT to measure high school achievement were not approved. The DOE has asked both states to submit “substantial” evidence to support the exam’s use for ESSA compliance. These include evidence of the accommodations given to students with learning difference as well as one request to show support for the use of ACT writing and reading scores. Importantly, the DOE has asked for evidence to allay concerns about variability between essay scorers. They want explanations of how the graders are trained to score essays. This is the first case of the ACT coming under increased scrutiny by the DOE. The ACT rushed to clarify that the DOE’s letters “don’t state that the ACT is not compliant…They simply state that there are some aspects and additional data that U.S. ED wants to see.” The ACT is working to help both states ensure compliance.

What this means: The U.S. Department of Education has no direct effect on how college admissions departments interpret or use the ACT scores, however, it is telling that the DOE has questions about the ACT essay’s reliability when it comes to scoring. The ACT came under heavy fire last year for its poor roll out of a new essay format and grading difficulties on the exam. The exam is also facing a number of colleges that are now essay optional, presumably because colleges are losing faith in the essay’s reliability. While the effect is not direct, such questions don’t occur in a vacuum; colleges are aware of these debates and issues and could potentially make changes as well.

Both the SAT and the ACT continued to be dogged by issues related to access to accommodations for students with LD’s. The SAT recently made sweeping changes while the ACT made only minor ones. DOE pressure is exactly the kind of thing that could get the ACT to follow the SAT’s lead and make it easier to secure accommodations.

U.S. Ed. Dept. Defers Approval of ACT for Accountability in Wyoming, Wisconsin (Ed Week)

SHSAT in NYC Changing

Summary: Next fall the SHSAT (the high school entrance exam used in New York City for admission to the eight specialized public high schools) will undergo a major revision. The test will now have 20 questions asking students to revise the grammar of sentences. The test will no longer contain the “scrambled paragraphs” questions that ask students to rearrange a group of sentenced into the correct order. In Math, students now have to complete “grid in questions”—much like those on the SAT. The test will also be 30 minutes longer to allow for new questions and 15 experimental questions that don’t affect a student’s score. Finally, multiple-choice questions will have only four instead of five answer choices. Sample tests will be available in June. The goal of these changes is to recruit more minority students for the specialized schools.

What this means: The changes instituted on the exam follow similar changes we have seen in the past few years to other standardized tests, such as the SAT (more grammar editing, fewer answer choices on multiple-choice questions, focus on inclusion of minority students, alignment with what’s taught in schools, etc.).

Revisions Coming for Admissions Tests to Coveted High Schools (Wall Street Journal)

SAT Accommodations on the Rise

Summary: According to the College Board, requests for special accommodations on the SAT have doubled in the last 5 years:

  • “In 2015-16, the board received approximately 160,000 requests;
  •  In 2014-15, requests totaled 108,000;
  •  In 2010-11, there were 80,000.”

The rise is due to a larger number of students being diagnosed with learning differences. Additionally, the College Board reports that its staff approves 85% of these requests for accommodation.

What this means: Expect to see the numbers continue to rise as diagnosis processes continue to get better in schools. The percent of approvals should also go up this year as the College Board puts into practice its new rules for streamlining accommodation requests.

These numbers also hint at an interesting possibility: perhaps the College Board’s recent decision to streamline the request process (elimination of supporting documentation, school counselor now only needs to simply answer two questions) may have been as much about ensuring equal access as it was about easing the burden of work placed on the College Board’s staff facing an explosion of requests.

Growing Number of Students Seeking Accommodations for SAT (North Jersey)

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