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PSAT Scores And More From The College Board Forum


As we do every year, Joshua White, our Director of Curriculum, and I attended the College Board’s national Forum in Chicago, a gathering of admissions officers and school counselors from across the country.  Topics on Testing (AP, P/SAT), Equity & Access, Paying for College, and Admissions (holistic admissions, enrollment management) dominated the 3-day program.

We realize what a busy time of year this is for everyone, so here are some takeaways from the sessions we attended and the conversations we had with various College Board personnel.

The increase in scores from PSAT to SAT is HIGHER with the redesigned tests than it was with the old PSAT and SAT.  Students are showing more improvement over time.  Why?  Our strong suspicion is that it has to do with the new SAT’s alignment to high school curricula.  If the new SAT is a better measure of what students learn in school, then student scores will improve by studying and doing well in school.  The older SATs, with higher degrees of aptitude and power, were less susceptible to straight up studying.  In short, the new SAT is more susceptible to prep than the old SAT was.

David Coleman, President of the College Board, admitted to multiple operational mistakes last year, but promised to “do better” in 2016-2017.  Here are some of his commitments (I hope he doesn’t mind my getting them down in writing!):

  • Acknowledging that the accommodations approval process is unnecessarily and “profoundly complicated,” David said that the College Board will be announcing major changes to the process by the end of 2016.
  • School counselors will have access to PSAT scores on December 5, a full week before the December 12 release to students. December 5-12 is being dubbed “Score Week for Counselors” (, a week during which College Board representatives will be dedicated to supporting counselors so they can better support their parents and students.
  • David admitted that College Board customer service is not helpful enough. They will extend educator hours to 8 pm during peak times.  There will now be only ONE phone number to access all College Board programs.  Loud cheers followed that announcement.
  • The counselor portal will be much easier to access and navigate. There will be a new home page and one-click access to the most useful reports.
  • David acknowledged that the move from paper PSAT reports to online was too sudden and too disruptive to the old-school filing systems developed by school counselors. They will revert back to delivering two paper reports and will run paper and online systems simultaneously, at least until they feel counselors are ready to move fully online.

There are some obvious omissions from the President’s mea culpa, including serious issues around test security, delayed score releases, and test validity.

After 20+ years of significant growth, the population of high school graduates (HSGs) has reached a plateau.  In 2013, there were 3.42MM HSGs.  WICHE (pronounced “witchy” and stands for Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education) projects a slight increase to 3.56MM in 2025, and then a drop to 3.25MM in 2031.  WICHE also presented an overall changing ethnic profile.  In 2001, the percentage of white HSGs was 69%.  In 2031, that number is projected to drop to 52%.  In 2001, the percentage of Hispanic/Black/Asian & Pacific Isles HSGs was 31%. That number is projected to jump to 48% in 2031, with Hispanics driving the majority of that growth. Colleges and universities find this information useful as they benchmark their student populations and as they explore markets.  The full report will be released on December 5, 2016.

Also from WICHE:  Private schools are losing share and will continue to do so.  In the 2010-2011 school year, there were 302,000 private school graduates.  WICHE projects that number to drop to around 220,000 by 2031.

In addition to the current pool of 6 official practice SATs, College Board will continue to release new practice SATs indefinitely, probably 2 or 3 forms annually after they are administered as official tests.  They will, however, limit the number of available online tests to 8-10 so as not to overwhelm students. Taking real practice tests is a critical piece of successful preparation so the practice test news is definitely good news for students.

The fate of SAT Subject Tests is undecided and will be determined by the “market.”  The College Board will look to colleges’ use of Subject Tests and the number of students taking them.  They are considering multiple avenues, one of which includes updating all of the tests to align them to the new SAT suite of assessments.  Another option includes updating some of them and leaving behind some of the less popular tests like World History and some of the language tests.  College Board was intentionally vague about when they would announce their plans.  Our sense is that they’re in no rush to make any changes, particularly in a time when the market is declining (fewer schools requiring them and fewer students taking them).

The College Board plans on making some minor adjustments to the math portion of the SAT based on criticisms of math problems being too wordy.  A recent Reuters article produced evidence that more students than anticipated were struggling to finish the math sections.  The College Board plans to reduce, but not completely eliminate, the number of text-heavy math questions.

The College Board is making plans for online administration of the SAT, although they’re not yet ready to make public announcements. Given that rival ACT is now offering online tests (currently only for weekday state testing), the College Board needs to put a plan into action soon. One of the College Board representatives commented, “If we don’t have online testing in place by 2020, we’re doing something wrong.”  What that online testing will look like and how it will work in practice remain to be seen.

Of the nearly 2 million annual SAT test-takers, over half a million of those students are/will be taking the state-mandated SATs in Connecticut, Michigan, Colorado, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Maine.  The long and short of it is state testing is good business for the College Board (and for its rival ACT). States are gravitating toward college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT for myriad reasons.  For one, students are taking too many tests and the SAT (and ACT) serves double duty.  If you’re going to take the PSAT and SAT anyway, those tests might as well serve a state’s federal accountability needs as well.  Moreover, having a college entrance exam as the state test has also dramatically increased student participation.  If the test counts for college, parents will be on board and students will show up.

The big challenge for the College Board will be meeting the demands of the states and simultaneously keeping state testing policies and procedures consistent with their national testing policies.  It would be unfair for students in Connecticut, for instance, to have a different set of testing accommodation requirements than do students across the rest of the country.  This issue of inconsistent accommodation policies has not yet been resolved.

The College Board will have to start viewing states, as well as school counselors, admissions officers, and students, as their constituents.  States are new territory for the College Board and it will be interesting to watch their progress. While Michigan, Colorado, and Connecticut all cited benefits of partnering with College Board, they also expressed multiple frustrations, including accommodations, data privacy, and the timeliness of the return of scores.

College counselors and psychologists outlined the differences between a high-achieving personality and a perfectionistic personality.  One is generally healthy; the other can be debilitating.  In a session called “The Kids Are All Right,” Dr. Jeffrey Bates talked about perfectionism, anxiety, and depression.  The table below illustrates how we as teachers, mentors, coaches, and parents can recognize the differences.

High-Achieving (healthy) Perfectionistic (unhealthy)
Pulled toward goals by desire to achieve them Driven to achieve goals by fear of failure
Focuses on achieving progressive steps toward goal Focuses on gap between where s/he is now versus the goal.  Gap represents failure.
Driven by hope Driven by a fear of failure
Can celebrate success There are only two possible outcomes:  1) Meet expectations; 2) Fail.  No celebration for just “meeting expectations.”
Engages in more positive, affirming self-talk Engages in negative self-talk


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

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Showing 5 comments
  • Avatar

    Hi Mr. Hernan.

    I am a student. If I approached my guidance counselor and asked her to tell me my score on December 5th, would she be allowed to tell me, or has the College Board given explicit instructions for guidance counselors not to disclose scores to students before the official December 12th release date?

    • Avatar

      Oops I meant Mr. O’Hearn! Spellcheck…

      • Avatar
        Charlie O'Hearn

        Thanks for the reply. I think that will be up to each school’s counseling department. CB has given NO explicit instructions to guidance counselors on when or when not to disclose scores to students. I don’t think there’s any harm in asking your guidance counselor. Just be prepared for a “no, we’re not prepared to give you those yet.” Good luck!

  • Avatar
    Joan Casey

    Hi Charlie,

    Thanks for the update. I find the explanation of why scores may be increasing due to alignment with school curriculum helpful. Interesting that the new SAT is being seen as a more coachable test than the old one. That is good news for students. I like the idea of making math problems less wordy. If the goal is to test math, a concise and clearly stated problem will allow students to show their math knowledge, an objective that might be hard to achieve if they are getting bogged down and tired from more, possibly unnecessary text.

    • Avatar
      Charlie O'Hearn

      Thanks, Joan. We’ll have to keep an eye on the evolution of the math sections. I suspect it’ll be slow and subtle.

      Miss you here at IECA!

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