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News from the 2018 College Board Forum: Online SAT/PSAT, the role of AP data in admissions, and more.


Every year, we attend the College Board’s national forum, a gathering of college admissions officers and school counselors from across the country, to learn about current issues and trends in testing and admissions. While the discussions at the College Board Forum cover many topics in the world of education, the focus is primarily on areas where the College Board is most invested. This year, the three days of conferences were focused on AP programs, using contextualized data in admissions decisions, and promoting retention for college students.

Here are some important takeaways from the sessions we attended and the conversations we had with College Board personnel:

Online SAT and PSAT

There are tentative plans to offer the PSAT digitally next fall, presumably for the October 2019 PSAT/NMSQT testing date. (August 2019 update: The College Board is offering the PSAT 8/9 as a digital test in Fall 2019). Angela DelBrocco, the College Board’s Executive Director of Strategy, noted that students need the option to continue testing on the same platform. She suggested the digital SAT may become a reality by the following year, in the fall of 2020, if not earlier that year. Initially, digital administration of the SAT will be focused on School Day administrations.

With the ACT Board just having launched a computerized version of the ACT for international students only a month ago, the urgent question has been: When will the College Board follow suit and release its own digital version of the SAT? As both the SAT and ACT prepare for digital administration in the U.S., the College Board is playing tortoise to the ACT’s hare. While the ACT has pushed forward and encountered significant problems with their international testing, the College Board is focusing on making careful, sure steps. As DelBrocco told us, “it only takes one mistake to ruin the reputation of such a large initiative. Things need to be done perfectly right from the first step.”

The Decline of Subject Tests and the Rise of AP’s

The College Board is considering several options for Subject Tests: a few of the Subject Tests might be prioritized and focused on, possibly revamped to better suit admissions’ needs, or the Subject Tests may just go away altogether. Within the next few months, the College Board hopes to settle on a definite plan for these tests.

Over the past few years, the steady decline of Subject Tests has been an ongoing concern for those of us in the testing industry. We already know that Subject tests are requested less and less by admissions committees. Indeed, the College Board itself seems to be pushing the test to the side; it seemed impossible to find any conference sessions even tangentially touching the subject test throughout the entire forum. Instead, the focus was on the value of the college-preparedness that AP classes provide for students.

Throughout the conference, admissions officers and K-12 school superintendents alike raved about the benefits of AP exposure for students, particularly for under served communities with less educational opportunity. In this context, the fate of the Subject tests seems uncertain. What information do these tests provide for admissions officers that an AP test does not already? The College Board has been talking with college admissions offices to determine how Subject Tests can best complement the existing suite of tests. We should hopefully have a clearer answer on this soon.

The Role of AP Data in Admissions Decisions

Many college admission offices are unsure about how AP test data should best be used when assessing student applications. This was a major concern at several sessions we attended.

Some schools noted that AP data must be looked at in the context of what is offered at each student’s school; for example, a student who takes all of the AP classes at a school that only offers 3 APs may have a more competitive application than a student who takes 10 AP classes at a school that offers 30. This may be unfair to the student who is taking more AP classes, but the alternative would be unfair to the student who has fewer AP classes available.

Additionally, with the growth of AP has come increasing stress for students who are filling their schedules with AP classes. Because AP classes require more time for studying and homework, these students may become overloaded with academic work that leaves little time for extracurriculars and other opportunities that would benefit their college applications (as well as make them happier students!).

At one session, the College Board presented research showing that taking more than 5 AP classes has very little benefit to students’ achievement in college. However, many colleges are still in the mindset that more is better and are reluctant to impose limits on how many AP classes a student should take. This is an ongoing, complicated issue, and we’re certain the discussion of AP data will continue to be a major topic in the world of college admissions.

Synchronizing Contextual Data to Predict College Graduates

Just as the number of AP classes per school is being debated as a useful data point, admissions officers in general are focusing on how all their data (SAT scores, GPA, class rank, AP tests, etc.) can work together to give a better picture of applicants.

For example, one school explained how they rate students’ Academic Work Ethic, or “AWE”, to predict how likely students are to complete their college degrees. The AWE score is largely based on how SAT scores, which are supposed to show students’ academic potential, relate to their GPA and AP scores, which show their current academic achievement. If there is a big difference, such as a student showing a lot of potential but not living up to it, the student would have low AWE, meaning they are not likely to finish their degree. Because these students often need intervention in the early weeks of their first semester to keep on track, the low AWE students are watched a bit more closely and given extra resources in case they may face challenges during their first semester. Based on their early research, students with high AWE had increased graduation rates of up to 40%.

Opportunity Scholarships Program

Over the next five years, the College Board will be doling out 25 million dollars’ worth of scholarships through its new Opportunity Scholarships program. The initiative is meant to incentivize students to stay on track during the college application and selection process while also helping students in financial need connect to scholarship opportunities with minimal effort. For the class of 2017, there were 2.5 billion dollars’ worth of Pell Grants left unused, so the push to get students to complete their FAFSAs is also intended to optimize students’ abilities to pursue a higher education.

How it works. Every year, 4000 students will receive scholarships ranging from $500 up to $2000 (and a possible $40,000 scholarship if all steps are completed), by taking any of 6 important steps that help students stay on track for college applications, beginning in their junior year. The program is open to all students and involves no application or essay.

Instead, the students can enter themselves in for monthly scholarship drawings by completing any or all of the 6 steps, which are: (1) building a college list in, (2) practicing for the SAT on Khan Academy, (3) improving an SAT score by at least 100 points (either between a PSAT and an SAT or between two consecutive SATs), (4) strengthening their college list, (5) completing the FAFSA and, (6) applying to colleges on their list. Students who complete all of these steps will be entered into a final drawing, where 25 of them will be selected to each receive a $40,000 scholarship. At least half of these scholarships are to be exclusively given to families with annual incomes under $60,000.

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and feedback.

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  • Avatar
    M Rosen

    My son’s private AZ school has come out against AP testing and insists it is not part of the admission process. His school does not offer AP classes although many students continue to take the tests based on their own desire to “stand out”. Instead they recommend taking only a few subject tests. This is opposite what you discussed in this article.

    • Joshua White
      Joshua White

      That’s interesting, thanks for sharing! The overall trend has been more emphasis on AP and less on Subject Tests. Every year, fewer colleges are requiring or recommending Subject Tests (currently, they are only required at three colleges: MIT, Harvey Mudd College, and the California Institute of Technology), whereas the number of schools providing AP tests and students taking these tests has been rising (the number of AP test-takers has nearly doubled over the last decade) and an increasing number of colleges are awarding class credits for AP scores. Recently, the College Board’s focus has certainly been on AP tests, rather than Subject Tests, and it seems that colleges have been placing more importance on AP tests, as well.
      Hopefully, the students at your son’s school get some support for their AP preparation, because these are very challenging tests, even for students who have completed AP classes.

  • Avatar
    Cynthia Rivera

    Thanks for this review. Was there any conversation about how high schools will manage if SATs become computerized. Will College Board, supply the computers to the schools as well? Since we test as many as 600 students on a Saturday, not sure where we would find that many computers and we are a well funded school. Doesn’t bode well for schools with fewer resources.

    • Joshua White
      Joshua White

      Hi Cynthia. You’re right, many high schools will not have the resources needed for digital testing. Based on what we’ve heard from the College Board, they will not offer computers to schools. It will be up to the schools to determine whether they can provide digital testing to their students, and it seems that most will have to continue using the traditional pen-and-paper tests. The good news is there shouldn’t be an advantage or disadvantage to taking the tests digitally. The content is all the same, so there won’t be any benefit to solving SAT problems on a screen or on a sheet of paper. When we talked to College Board officials, we were told they’re planning to conduct “comparability studies” to ensure students will perform the same on either format of test.

  • Avatar

    I continue to be impressed by the time and professional energy Summit leadership devotes to staying on top of developments in the testing world, and then sharing their observations and analysis with all of us. Thank you

    • Joshua White
      Joshua White

      So glad to hear from you!
      The developments from the College Board affect people throughout the world of education. We’re proud to take some responsibility in keeping everyone informed!
      Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

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