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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:

ACT Takes Aim at SAT “Test Prep Works” Press Release

Summary: On Wednesday, the ACT’s research division released a statement about the effects of test prep. The statement is a direct attack on the College Board’s recent press release touting the positive impact of preparing for the SAT via Khan Academy. In it’s own statement the ACT’s statement highlights numerous problems with the College Board’s press release. Specifically, the ACT notes that the CB hasn’t released the data or methodology of its study for independent corroboration. The ACT seconds many of the concerns highlighted in an Inside Higher Ed article we discussed last month. The statement also relies heavily on a 2009 NACAC study that “suggest[ed] that short-term test prep activities, while they may be helpful, do not produce large increases in college admission test scores.”

What This Means:  The ACT is gunning hard for the SAT in this statement. It specifically targets SAT prep through College Board’s approved tech platform, Khan Academy, one area in which the SAT has far outperformed the ACT. We’re looking forward to how the ACT maintains or changes its claims when it releases its own personalized test prep tools.

  • This statement comes on the heels of a recent statement by the ACT’s CEO—which we discussed in last week’s newsflash—on the marathon nature of ACT prep, starting as far back as elementary school. The one consistent thread through both of these ACT statements is that long-term not short-term prep is best. We’d would probably agree on that point!
  • It’s time for new studies. Everyone (educators, counselors, test prep, test writers, etc.) uses this 2009 study to argue that test prep does or doesn’t work. And the ACT does it here, too. But everyone seems to ignore the fact that this study relied on admittedly limited data from research covering test prep from 1953 through 2004, most heavily relying on student data from the years 1990–1992, 1995–1996, and 2002–2004. The test prep industry, the counseling industry, the education system, our national culture around these tests, and even the tests themselves have changed so much in the 27 years since the first of these data sets was collected. In fact, this entire study looks not at the old SAT (2400-version) but only at the old-old SAT (1600-version with analogies in Verbal, no Writing, no Essay, and quantitative comparison questions in Math.). Using those studies is about as useful as employing data from the 1990s on cell phone use to make the argument in 2017 that people today just don’t use cell phones all that much. The product is different, the culture is different, and the exam itself is different. We need new data.

What the Research Says About the Effects of Test Prep (ACT)

New Rules and Processes for ELL ACT Takers

Summary: The ACT released details on its new supports for English Language Learners (ELL) taking the exam in the U.S. starting this fall. Students enrolled “in a local school district’s English learners (EL) program who meet the current definitions of an English learner under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” are the only students eligible for these accommodations. Possible accommodations include:

  • “Extended Time, not to exceed time and half
  • Approved word-to-word bilingual dictionary (no definitions)
  • Test directions in the native language
  • Testing in a familiar environment/small group”

If your student may qualify for these accommodations, he must reach out to the staff member at his school responsible for ACT accommodation requests. Only these staff members may complete the process for accommodation requests.

What This Means:

  • These are the same accommodations that the ACT announced in November. This new release merely details how students should go about securing accommodations.
  • If you know of a student who needs the accommodations, have him reach out ASAP. It can take a few weeks to get into contact with school staff during summer break.

ACT Policy for Supporting English Learners (ACT)

GMAT Allows Students to Choose Order of Sections

Summary: Last week, GMAC, the maker of the GMAT exam, announced that students will now be able to decide which order they want the sections of the exam to appear on the test. Students will make their decision when they arrive at the test center. There will be three options for the order of the sections:

  • Analytical Writing, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal (original order)
  • Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing
  • Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing

The order you decide will not show up on your score report to schools. Known as “Select Section Order,” the new feature is available for all GMAT takers starting July 11 (domestically and internationally). In its press release, the GMAC noted that in its 2016 study of the new feature “85 percent of participants surveyed express[ed] that this new feature boosted their confidence prior to even taking the exam” without affecting the validity of scores or of the exam itself.

What This Means:

  • Test flexibility is an excellent selling point for a computer-based test like the GMAT. Students like feeling in control of the exam. Perhaps we will see other graduate exams delivered by computer embrace a similar practice, or even the SAT and ACT as they move to computer-adaptive testing in the coming decade.

New GMAT Exam Feature Offers Greater Control and Flexibility (GMAC)

ACT Mess in Ohio, Tennessee, and California

Summary: ACT had a tough few weeks with problems at a few of its test sites. Nearly 1500 students in Tennessee (3% of all Tennessee schools that gave the ACT) and 1300 students in Ohio (1% of all schools in Ohio) almost had their scores invalidated. In those two states, students were given the wrong version of the exam at their test centers. At first, the ACT said students could retake the exam for free in October but that their April tests would not be scored. After numerous complaints, ACT decided that the April scores would stand. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, 125 answer sheets from University High School have gone missing for the April ACT. The school mailed the students’ bubble sheets, but the sheets never arrived at the ACT scoring center. The affected students have the option of retaking the test for free at anytime and using either score if their missing bubble sheets turn up.

What This Means:

  • We can’t say it enough: Don’t wait until the last possible opportunity to take your ACT/SAT when applying for college, a good reminder as we head into the fall sign up season. You never know what might happen: you get sick, you forget your calculator, the proctor miscalls the time, or—apparently—you get the wrong test booklet or Fedex loses your bubble sheets. Always schedule a buffer.

ACT Agrees to Provide Scores for Students Caught in Testing Snafu (Ed Week)
Where’s My Score? About 125 ACT Tests Get Lost in L.A. (Los Angeles Times)

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