News from The College Board Forum 2019: Landscape Pilot Continues, Digital Testing, and Other Notes

November 15, 2019

Washington, D.C. was the setting for The College Board Forum 2019 from November 6-8. The Summit delegation included our Founder, Charlie O’Hearn and members of our curriculum, instruction, and training team. They returned with these items of interest.

Landscape (formerly Environmental Context Dashboard) is alive, well, and growing.

Panelists Jeremiah Quinlan from Yale, Tania Castanada from Rutgers, and Ronne Turner from Wash U all spoke very positively about their experiences with Landscape, the College Board tool that provides high school and neighborhood information “to help college admissions officers fully consider students, no matter where they live.”

All three schools were part of the group of over 100 schools that are participating in the 2019-2020 Landscape pilot, a pilot program that started in 2017 with 15 schools.

While colleges for decades have been looking at high school and neighborhood data, Landscape aggregates that disparate data into a consistent format and platform. All three schools have slightly different enrollment goals, but they cited similar benefits from Landscape. The information provides admissions officers context within which to ground all of the other applicant data – seeing how applicants perform relative to peers was important for all three panelists.  Each panelist cited goals to improve the socioeconomic diversity of their school’s student body, and each school felt that Landscape has helped them to achieve that goal.  Ronnie from Wash U said point blank, “We are now admitting more students from challenging environments and fewer from advantaged communities.”

Wash U receives applications from 7200 high schools each year.  From half of those schools they’ll receive only one application.  They can’t and don’t know all those schools. Landscape is invaluable in terms of understanding these particular schools better.

Yale received over 250 applicants from Stuyvesant High School in New York last year!  While Yale certainly knows Stuyvesant and has the school profile, Yale doesn’t know what neighborhoods the students come from (e.g., Queens, Brooklyn) and those neighborhoods vary significantly in their socioeconomics.  Landscape provides that information.

All cited that Landscape has been particularly helpful for younger, less experienced admissions staff as it fills gaps in their knowledge. Quinlan also said that Landscape is helpful because Yale’s admissions officers don’t travel as much as they used to.

Last year, there were over 10,000,000 applicants from 30,000 schools in the US. It is impossible for colleges to know all of the neighborhoods and schools across the country. Look for more and more colleges to sign on to Landscape, especially as colleges strive to improve socioeconomic diversity at their schools.

Digital SAT and PSAT testing options are slowly being released.

The College Board has been quietly building its suite of digital test offerings, releasing the digital PSAT 8/9 this fall (as of September 23, 2019) and planning to expand to the rest of the SAT Suite of Assessments over the next year and beyond. Schools will be able to order the PSAT 10 in digital format in the fall of 2020, although there are currently no plans to make the PSAT/NMSQT test available digitally (this is the version of the PSAT students take their junior year, which qualifies them for the national merit scholarship).

Starting in spring 2021, schools will have the option of administering a full digital SAT through the AIR testing platform for School Day testing. According to Angela DelBrocco, the Executive Director of Strategy at the College Board, the digital option will likely be limited to School Day administrations of the test, and a wider rollout of digital testing on national weekend test administrations may progress more slowly. In contrast to the ACT’s rapid release of online testing options, the College Board will be assessing how many weekend testing sites can provide digital administration and will not provide the option until there is enough availability and demand.

The College Board’s main priorities for online testing options are ensuring that the needs of schools are met and that all students have equal access. CB plans to work closely with schools, offering potentially new methods of digital test delivery that will relieve as much burden as possible from the administration of the exam. There is discussion that, with digital administration, a full SAT exam might be broken into multiple days to relieve any issues that a full day of testing might bring. Such offerings may eventually lead to individual section retesting, such as what the ACT will soon offer, but this is currently a distant, tenuous possibility for the SAT.

If a school decides to administer the digital version of any of these tests, all students taking the exam there will be required to take the exam digitally (except for students who test with special accommodations and may require a paper format).

There are currently no plans to offer the College Board’s 10 free practice tests in a digital format through the AIR testing program.

The College Board Reaction to ACT Changes in 2020

The College Board has been quiet after ACT’s announcement of changes coming in 2020, which include section retesting at digital testing locations (read more here). It is unlikely that the CB will offer a similar option for the SAT anytime soon; the College Board has historically taken a more data-driven and measured approach to any considerable change to their tests or test format. CB representatives expressed concern that offering a similar section retesting option would promote overtesting and may unnecessarily increase anxiety among students, who are already overburdened with growing course loads and extracurricular demands. There is also worry that section retesting may further widen the achievement gap between students from higher-income families (who are already more likely to take the test multiple times) and those from lower-income families (who typically take the test just once and are less likely to live near a school with enough funding to offer digital testing for a large number of students). Furthermore, CB representatives pointed out that they have no concordance data on section retesting yet. The ACT has not yet researched to confirm their section retesting option won’t provide unfair benefits to those students who have access to the offering, and the SAT is unlikely to move forward with a similar step unless they complete comprehensive validity studies.

The SAT stays the course.

Although the method of delivery will be changing, the SAT won’t see any changes to its content in the near future. The College Board is intent on keeping its content consistent as they continue to evaluate the validity of their test in predicting measures such as first-year college GPA. There are plans to update the student portal and score reporting methods, however, so the process of reviewing and sending scores should be simpler for students and families.

The future of the SAT Subject Tests is still up in the air. The CB does plan to release a statement soon about how they may be reworked. Some of the less popular tests will likely be eliminated and the content and scoring of the rest will be updated. The CB has been working with admission offices to determine how these tests can best supplement other metrics, such as GPA, SAT scores, and AP test scores.

New resources are available for AP teachers.

Not only has the College Board come out with a comprehensive new set of course and exam description binders for each AP course offering available, but they have released a large online data bank of questions and a series of unit assessments.

We hope that this information is helpful. Feel free to contact us directly with questions or leave a message in the comment box below.


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…. I still have doubts that the newly-termed and even more obfuscating “Landscape” adaptation to an already burdensome testing process will achieve the manifest goal of leveling the playing field. It could actually have the reverse and destructive effect of eliminating applicants from lower income areas to preserve scarce financial aid dollars.

This is current and helpful information, as usual. Many thanks SE team!

Thanks for an excellent report! I had to chuckle a little at this line in the item about CB’s response to the ACT gambit: “the College Board has historically taken a more data-driven and measured approach to any considerable change to their tests or test format.” Well, that may be what they SAY, but if one does not think the latest change in the SAT was not in part a marketing decision, think again!