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College Admissions Testing: Navigating a Changing LandscapePosted by Marianne Stephens on 11/22/2020
For many years, the SAT or ACT was a required elements of the college admissions process. However, even before the pandemic, testing was slipping in its importance due to growing evidence that scores are not the best predictor of college performance. Scores correlate most closely to family wealth, and the data show that scores suppress opportunity more than they enable opportunity. (References: Final Thoughts on the SAT and ACT by Jon Boeckenstedt; Fact Sheets FairTest.org).
Cancellations and Testing Roulette
As Shorewood families know, we were unable to offer the PSAT in October 2020 and have not hosted the SAT or ACT since March 2020. The December 2020 SAT and ACT are cancelled, and we exams scheduled in Spring 2021 may or may not occur. As long as the Shorewood building is closed to in-person instruction, we will not host tests. It is uncertain whether exams will be hosted if/ when we go to hybrid instruction. The annual all-junior School Day SAT, usually held in March, is uncertain.
Trying to find another testing location has become a sort of testing roulette: you can choose a location that you think will hold the exam, but there is no guarantee that it will actually host the exam when the times comes, and you cannot change a registration short-term. This guessing game is made more difficult by the College Board’s delay in listing closed sites.
Colleges Going Test Optional
Virtually all colleges have gone test optional or test blind for the current seniors, the Class of 2021, and most of those colleges have made it a multi-year policy. We expect colleges to continue to be flexible; they need students.
Uniformly, college admissions officials at the approximately 100 colleges we deal with the most have said that they do not want families to take risks and they tell students that their time & energy is better spent on coursework and activities. They are well aware of the stressors on families now and of the inevitable stress of college admissions, so they are trying to alleviate that stress slightly by removing testing requirements since that is one of the many barriers to college admissions.
It is extremely difficult to forecast what colleges will do longer term. We expect the vast majority of colleges to continue the test optional policies. However, some colleges and the military academies may re-institute the requirement when circumstances change. We would project that the vast majority will remain test optional.
Many families have wondered if test optional really means test optional, and hundreds of colleges have affirmed that yes, Test Optional Means Test Optional (NACAC) and/ or they have published extensive information about their policies and how test scores will be used (SAT / ACT Scores, UW Seattle).
National Merit Scholarship Program
The Annual National Merit Scholarship Program, usually based on scores earned by student who take the PSAT in the fall of their Junior year, has announced an alternate qualification for this class of 2022. However, it is based on students taking an SAT in the spring. The uncertainly of that will complicate this possibility for students nationwide.
It remains to be seen whether the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will further revise the announcement they made earlier this fall. Please understand that this program benefits only a few students and recent National Merit Semifinalists at Shorewood have largely not received large scholarships. Read more detail here: National Merit Qualification for the Class of 2022.
Despite most colleges’ policies, some families continue to pursue the tests. For an examination of this choice, see The SAT and the ACT Will Probably Survive the Pandemic an excerpt from Jeffrey Selingo’s new book published in The Atlantic. Basically, families are having a hard time letting go of the belief that taking the tests will give them an advantage. Selingo discusses many forces at work, including the college search industry, which has become a multibillion dollar enterprise.
As families are making decisions about testing, we encourage them to prioritize safety and student well-being. No one factor will make or break a student’s chances at college. If you decide to pursue testing, be sure that the time and effort you put into it will actually be worth it.
We have heard of families spending 30 or 40 hours only on the attempts to test, not counting hours on test prep. Those hours may be spent researching testing sites (remember that the College Board’s SAT Test Center Closings page is not well kept up), attempting to communicate with the College Board or ACT; canceling and re-registering; or planning travel to sites that say they are open.
Please also consider whether the time and effort will be worth it is a student does not meet score targets.
The emphasis on scores has been declining for years, and colleges really do mean that students will not be penalized if they do not have scores. If we are able to hold a School Day SAT in the spring, the Class of 2022 will have at least one set of scores that they can then choose to use or not.
Students who may be on track for National Merit Scholarship consideration and students aiming for military academies may choose to pursue testing. Of course it is up to students and their families.
If you wish to leave the possibiity open, you could register for exams late in the school year (May and/or June 2021) with the understanding that we cannot know what availability will look like then.
For most families, the effort required for chasing tests may not be worth it.
Sources/ Further Information
The Role of Standardized Testing in the Time of COVID-19 and Beyond: Guidance for Colleges and Universities National Association of College Admission Counselors Task Force on Standardized Admission Testing, 2020. NACAC includes both high school and college counselors. While this report targets colleges, interested families will learn what the colleges are hearing and what their priorities should be.
The SAT and the ACT Will Probably Survive the Pandemic an excerpt from Jeffrey Selingo’s new book Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions. Excerpt published in The Atlantic
Toppling Testing? COVID-10, Test-Optional College Admissions and Implications for Equity by Kelly Rosinger, Penn State. A look at how colleges can accomplish goals of equal access. Despite the press that equity efforts receive, underrepresented populations are still disproportinoately underrepresented at most colleges.
Jon Boeckenstedt’s Admissions Weblog with several posts on standardized testing and his Recommendation on Admissions and Testing at OSU detailing the rationale behind the recommendation that Oregon State go test-optional. Boeckenstedt, the Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at Oregon State University, has studied testing for years, with a focus on the data.
FairTest.org searchable database of schools with test-optional, test-blind, or test-flexible policies. See the footnotes and detail for each college.
FairTest.org Fact Sheets on various aspects of the issue.
Shoreline Unweighted GPAs Not a Problem for College AdmissionsPosted by Marianne Stephens on 3/8/2020
Wondering about implications of our unweighted GPA? Be assured: you are not at a disadvantage for college admissions.
The Shoreline School District and all other public school districts in the State of Washington have an unweighted GPA. That means that an ‘A’ in any course is worth 4.0, and grades are awarded the following values:
Some states (and districts in states where it is not uniform statewide) have a GPA scale that differentiates between general and honors/ AP courses, so a student could have a GPA of more than 4.0 by earning high grades in advanced courses.
There isn’t only one way that some states/ districts weight GPAs: extra may be awarded only for AP or IB, or also for honors, and in some cases all dual credit options (like Running Start and college in the high school courses) may also be weighted.
Students and families often worry that they will be at a disadvantage compared to students from other locations, but you will NOT be at a disadvantage with our unweighted GPA.
College applications ask the type of GPA. There is an option for “weighted” in which some courses count for more and “unweighted” in which all courses count the same. Our students will check the “unweighted” box when filling in their GPA & type on applications.
Colleges recalculate GPAs. They do not only look at the cumulative GPA. They consider:
- the type of GPA
- the courses taken
And they recalculate all applicants’ GPAs based on whatever scale they use. If they use a weighted scale, they use uniform rules so that all applicants—from schools/ areas with unweighted or differently weighted GPAs—are evaluated on a common scale.
Colleges practice holistic admissions and also consider:
- other qualities of the student
- essay and recommendations
- what they know about the school
Admission is rarely a simple numbers equation. Many students of ours have been admitted places where they are below the college’s average GPA and/ or test scores.
Colleges realize that we have an unweighted GPA
We have never heard of this being a problem for our students. Applicants do need to make sure that they are checking the “unweighted GPA” box on applications, particularly for colleges out of state, but please do not worry about this issue.
Sham Alert: Questionable Letters and Emails Received by Shorewood StudentsPosted by Marianne Stephens on 1/21/2018
Alert: Beware of Sham Offers Sent to Shorewood Students
Several students have come to me or their counselors with fancy-looking direct mailings or questionable emails they have received. Please be aware that these offers are often not what they seem. Read on for more information, resources, and other types of scams.
Official-Looking Letters or Emails
You/ your student might receive thick envelopes with official-looking seals, or emails from organizations with important-sounding names, like "National Congress/ Academy/ Society/ Conference of ________."
These mailings look legitimate, and the letters may say something about the honor of being selected. However, most of these are essentially well-packaged marketing schemes. The award is not an award. It is an advertisement for a conference or a guide that will cost you money.
Not a Complete Scam; More Like a Sham
There probably is a real conference or a real camp—you will get something for your money—and you might even find it beneficial, but beware of the claims. Most of these programs are not selective and do not have minimum criteria; they are open to anyone willing to pay. Thoroughly check out any programs. Some schools call these "Pay to Play" programs.
About the Organizations
Often, these are for-profit companies. Sometimes the conferences they promote are held at prestigious universities, but the organization may simply be renting space at the school and not have official ties. The official-sounding names do not mean the organization is a well-respected, reputable entity. Sometimes famous, accomplished people are listed as speakers or honorary board members. These individuals may have been hired to be speakers.
The Claims: Honor & Boost for College Admission
The offers make it sound like the student has been selected or nominated, and it may list students who have previously participated in the program. While there may be some minimum criteria, overall these are marketing techniques designed to flatter you into paying for something. If Shorewood nominates you for something, you will know from Shorewood.
Attending these programs will not help with college admissions. You might hear that colleges want you to do extra activities and honors, but they do not expect you to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars. Colleges know which programs are truly selective and legitimate and which are not. There are scores of legitimate enrichment and college admissions assistance programs run at universities and through nonprofits. Be sure that you check out organizations thoroughly. Check on nonprofit status and investigate the connection to a named university.
Reality: Colleges Value Work & Ongoing Involvement
College admissions representatives value work, family commitments, and ongoing involvement in activities/ pursuits/ hobbies/ sports. You do not need a fancy-sounding opportunity to help you get into college.
How Organizations Get Personal Information
These organizations do not get your information from Shorewood or the Shoreline School District. We are obligated by law to keep student records private. Students all over the country are receiving these mailings.
Organizations could get student information in a few ways.
The College Board and ACT are supposed to only share information with nonprofit educational organizations. Read about the College Board’s Student Search Service which is probably a source of the college mail your student receives. Read more about the College Board’s Data Privacy Policies. You can look at your CollegeBoard.org account to find out if you are enrolled in the Student Search Service. To opt-out, see links below, call 800-626-9795, or write to The College Board, 11955 Democracy Drive, Reston, VA 20190, Attention: Student Search Service. Realize that you will not hear directly from colleges if you opt out, but you can contact each college of interest individually.
There are also marketing lists all over the place; most of our names, including our kids’ names, somehow end up on these lists. The Federal Trade Commission has opt out tools; see Stopping Unsolicited Mail, Phone Calls, and Email on www.consumer.ftc.gov.
My Personal $.02
The first question people ask: “Is this legit?” To which I answer as above.
The second question people ask: “Would you send your kids?” My answer is no. I wouldn't spend the money.
Don't be so scared of college admissions that you think you need something like this to get in. College admissions representatives know that these are marketing ploys, and realize that not everyone has access to enrichment. Colleges have loads of respect for students who work in the summer. You do not need to do something flashy to get colleges attention.
In the National Media: Suggested Reading
For Sale: Survey Data on Millions of High School Students NY Times 7.29.2018 I was interviewed for this article
Don’t expect this ‘award’ to help you enter college LA Times 1.29.2016
Congratulations! You Are Nominated. It’s an Honor. (It’s a Sales Pitch.) NY Times 4.13.2009
For Sale: Student “hopes and dreams” Politico 5.15.14
Be a Skeptic and Do Your Research
On occasion, mailings are legitimate. Ironically, some of the legitimate recognitions may not be as fancy as the sham ones. Do internet searches for reviews of events and organizations, and see if anything comes up when you search for the name of the organization and the word “scam.”
Offers by Email & Telephone
You may also get solicitations via email or phone. These firms have most likely gotten your information from marketing lists and have a product to sell you.
In the past, many offers by telephone have had to do with test prep services, though companies who get your information might try anything. Some callers have claimed that they are from the College Board, but The College Board does not make these offers.
Be very skeptical of any unsolicited contact, no matter how it comes.
Never give out your credit card information or agree to something that will cost you money without checking out thoroughly.
See the College Board’s Information about Telemarketing and Internet Scams for further recommendations.
See Avoiding Scams on StudentAid.Ed.gov for information on other types of scholarship, FAFSA, and student loan scams that might come your way.
Please let me know if you have questions. If I don’t know the answer, I will try to find out!