Map of States Using the SAT or ACT for State Testing

State testing standards and methods are shifting dramatically, as states increasingly choose college-entrance exams to measure achievement.  Is this good?  Is this bad?  On the one hand, these exams were not designed to assessment high school academic achievement. They were designed to assess college readiness.  On the other hand, using the SAT and ACT in place of existing state exams means fewer total standardized exams for high school students -- and that is something we support.  

For more on this topic, please our post "Why Did the SAT Change?"

Does it Matter Which Test Prep Company I Use? New data says 'YES'

Does it really matter which test prep company I use?  Aren't they all more or less the same?  And if they're all pretty much the same, why not go with the cheapest option, or the easiest to schedule, or the biggest brand name?

These are fair questions.  But choosing between test prep firms is not like choosing between car dealerships, where two firms are selling the same Lexus and the consumer's only real concern is the price. Choosing a test prep firm is actually much more similar to choosing a lawyer or a doctor as there are often large differences in terms of quality and results from one firm to another.   

The New ACT Essay - What You Need to Know

First, just breathe.  The essay still won't count toward your composite score, so ultimately, the impact of the new ACT essay will be minimal.

The Facts:

-     It's going to get harder.  The silver lining is that the increased difficulty will significantly enhance the advantage conferred to students who prepare for the ACT essay.  

-     The format of the prompt is changing.  Students will be given a complex topic and three perspectives on said topic.  They will be asked to "evaluate and analyze" the three perspectives in 40 minutes (increased from 30 minutes on the old format).  

-     The scoring system is changing too. Students will now be given an essay score on a 36-point scale, similar to the scores they receive on the other four sections of the ACT (but once again, the essay score will not affect students' composite scores in any way). 

-     This change in no way affects our recommendation to always sign-up for the optional ACT essay. 

-     We have practice essay prompts, and our students will be ready for the new format on the September 12th, 2015 official ACT exam.

Why Did the SAT Change?

Recently, a head of school emailed asking for a concise answer as to why the College Board (makers of the SAT) decided to redesign the PSAT and SAT exams.  Our response is reproduced below:

In short, the reason is market share. 

While the ACT and College Board are technically nonprofits, they do combined business each year in the hundreds of millions.  Sometimes their actions appear to be more like multi-national corporations than educationally-minded institutions.  

Two trends have emerged over the last few years:  

1) More students are taking the ACT:  In 2012, more kids took the ACT than the SAT for the first time ever.  The ACT hasn't looked back since, with more and more students shifting to the ACT every year. 

2) State testing is being handed over to the ACT and College Board:  This was where the College Board really got caught with their pants down.  Before they knew it, the ACT had contracted 20 states to replace their state testing with versions of the ACT or PLAN (now called the ASPIRE).  However, since the SAT redesigned its exam to align with nationwide common core curriculum it has secured several states of its own -- including a three-year, $14.3 million contract with the state of Illinois, a traditional ACT stronghold.  

Conclusion:  It appears that the College Board felt as though they didn't have a choice but to redesign their exam to try to reverse the aforementioned trends. 

So what did they do? 

They hired David Coleman from the ACT -- the guy who built the ACT's state-testing empire.  He was also one of only five people on the standards writing team for both the Mathematical and English Language Arts portions of the Common Core.  Coleman oversaw the redesign of the SAT to ensure it aligned with the Common Core standards. (What this means for students is that math will now be much more important on the SAT and more difficult.)  

As a side note, we're recommending that the majority of class of 2017 students move forward with the ACT over the SAT. If you're interested in that topic, we have a blog post that explains our reasoning.

SAT Printing Error Gives Students Extra Time

Thousands of students who took the SAT on Saturday are concerned about the validity of their test scores, thanks to a printing error that resulted in some students getting extra time on one section.  For one section, students were told in their test booklets that they had 25 minutes to finish, when in fact, they should have only had 20 minutes. We will keep you posted on how the College Board responds to this error.

Washington Post Article on SAT Printing Error

Us News Article on SAT Printing Error

Update, 8 June 2016, 4:30pm: 

From the College Board:

"After a comprehensive review and statistical analysis, the College Board and ETS have determined that the affected sections will not be scored and we will still be able to provide reliable scores for all students who took the SAT on June 6. We expect to deliver scores within the usual timeframe.

To accommodate the wide range of incidents that can impact a testing experience, the SAT is designed to collect enough information to provide valid and reliable scores even with an additional unscored section. From fire drills and power outages to mistiming and disruptive behavior, school-based test administrations can be fragile, so our assessments are not."