Jun 10, 2013

The College Board drops the Ball

The College Board recently published exam dates for 2013-14. 

And groans from those of us working with college-bound high school students could be heard from coast to coast.

Why?  Because once again, the College Board failed to move up its schedule and add a national August or September SAT® test date. 

Whether it’s a matter of money or convenience to the well-oiled College Board machine, the absence of an earlier fall exam is beginning to affect how the SAT® is viewed and the level of confidence test-takers have in its usefulness. 

“You wouldn’t believe how many parents and students call me to prep for the ‘summer’ SAT,” said Ginny Wirzbicki, director of the Mentaur Learning Center in Denver, North Carolina. “They’re really disappointed when they find one doesn’t exist.” 

It only makes sense.  Colleges are increasingly using early application policies to get a handle on admissions and bolster yield. 

They’re adding binding early decision or nonbinding early action options to an already complicated mix of application procedures, and they're moving-up deadlines to make it all work administratively.

So students seeing very real advantages to applying early are gravitating in large numbers to these programs.

In fact National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reports that early action applications now represent about 40 percent of the total applicant pool at those institutions with early action policies.  And it's a growing trend.  This year, 47 percent of all UVa applicants opted for the early action plan—an increase of seven percentage points over the previous year.

But to squeeze in an additional SAT® Reasoning or Subject Test to meet early deadlines, students had to wait until October to take the first test offered in the fall of senior year. 

Those who wanted to see outcomes before selecting test results to send to colleges then had to wait until the end of the month before making arrangements for the College Board to transmit scores.  

This delay often results in a logjam in application submission among students who are on the fence about their admissibility at certain schools or those who want to include score results on their applications.

Not only does the wait produce stress, but it can also mean additional expense to send “expedited” scores to colleges requiring score receipt by application deadlines.

And once again, the College Board has found a way to make a little extra money from the thousands of applicants who feel forced to pay the upcharge for rushing their scores.

“Although including score results on applications is usually optional, many students feel an application is incomplete without this information and want to wait to submit until they can provide it,” explained Archana Sudame, an independent college consultant in Fremont California. “If they are retaking in the fall, things get delayed.  So yes, an August or September SAT would certainly help move the process along a little.”

The absence of an earlier test date is especially hard on specific populations of students.  First-generation or low-income students often lack information and confidence about applying to college, so they can be slow to register for standardized tests and tend to leave them for later in the process.  An August or September test date would help enormously both for college planning and test preparation for students unsure of college prospects.

International students face similar problems, according to Rebecca Grappo, an independent educational consultant who primarily works with American students living abroad as well as international students considering coming to the United States for college.

“My international students don't even think about college until it's too late to prep for spring and then they've missed the boat,” explained Ms. Grappo. “I have several kids starting the fall application season with no SAT’s—so how can I even create a realistic list for them until we get the results in late October?”

After last year’s brief flirtation with an August test date for a few connected campers associated with the National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT), many in-school and independent college counselors predicted the College Board would get with the program and open the door to tests administered a little earlier than the first or second week of October.

In fact, there were strong hints that the matter was under review at the highest levels.

But after much delay in posting this year’s test dates, the College Board appeared to place negotiations for the more lucrative “SAT School Day” program ahead of finding a way to move up the first national test date and opted out of making changes for this year.

Luckily, the more forward-thinking ACT has a September test date.

And how should students view their standardized test options? 

“I strongly suggest my students flee College Board!” responded Judy McNeely, of College Pathfinders.

Examination and test dates approved for 2013-14 and proposed for 2014-15 may be found on the College Board website.

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