The College Board said Tuesday it is scrapping a key supplement to the SAT: the mastery exams known as subject tests. It will also almost entirely eliminate the optional essay-writing component.
The testing giant said in a statement that the pandemic "accelerated a process already underway ... to reduce and simplify demands on students." It also plans to pursue a "more flexible" SAT that could be delivered online.
However, the organization’s skeptics are quick to note the effects of the health crisis on its revenue streams, as fewer students are able to sit for college entrance exams and institutions are removing them as a requirement.
The coronavirus shuttered K-12 schools and other common testing sites as it worked its way through the country last spring. Some of them remain closed or at diminished capacity, putting extraordinary pressure on the College Board and its competitor, the ACT.
The College Board said last month that two-thirds of test centers initially scheduled to administer the SAT were open for December, though some had reduced capacity. Taking into account the problems students have accessing the tests, almost all four-year colleges have halted or temporarily stopped using entrance exams.
But even before the pandemic, the tests were rapidly losing clout. A record number of institutions shifted to test-optional policies in 2019. That year, the University of California system, which is located in one of the largest testing markets in the country, was sued to get it to stop using the SAT and ACT in admissions. State courts ruled the system needed to end admissions testing mandates for students entering in fall 2021. The decisions came months after the system’s governing board voted to largely phase the tests out over the next several years.
Two advisory groups recently recommended the system explore an alternate exam to the SAT or ACT for admissions purposes. The regent board will discuss its admissions test options at a meeting Thursday.
The College Board did not acknowledge these setbacks in its new announcement. A spokesperson did not respond to emailed questions Tuesday, instead referring Higher Ed Dive to its online statement.
The organization said U.S. students will receive a refund if they signed up for subject tests, which are used to gauge proficiency on specific topics, such as biology and foreign languages. Students typically take them to burnish their credentials when applying to elite American colleges, but they have grown less popular in recent years. The optional essay has similarly fallen out of favor, though it will be available in states where students are required to take the SAT in school.
"Anything that simplifies the admissions process and removes barriers for students is a step in the right direction," Angel Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, wrote in an email.
Bob Schaeffer, a noted admissions testing critic, said in an emailed statement that neither of the canceled assessments were "very good from a measurement perspective." The essay could be manipulated with long-winded submissions lacking substance, he said, and the subject tests encouraged "coaching, memorization and regurgitation." Schaeffer is the interim executive director of FairTest, a nonprofit that advocates for equitable uses of standardized tests.
The College Board is attempting to protect its biggest income drivers, the SAT and Advanced Placement tests, Schaeffer said, noting it "made no financial sense to continue trying to market its ever-less-popular products." The company, in its announcement, did not elaborate on how it would change a digitally-administered SAT, only that it would make more information available in the spring.