What Students Need to Know About the Lucrative Battle Between the SAT and ACT

Q: What do students need to understand about the big money connected to high-stakes college admissions testing?

A: Plenty.

At GATE College System, the academic team is standardized test agnostic. That is, these career educators equally question the relevance of either test discussed in this blog. The College Board, parent company of standardized test SAT, and ACT Inc. are competing for business. Big business. Since students are directly impacted, illuminating how this plays out may help offset some of the typical anxiety of taking these exams.

Remember several years ago? ACT Inc.’s CEO accused the SAT of falsifying data. It doesn’t take a critical thinking genius to conclude that this may have something to do with the fact that millions of dollars are at stake. The two companies are in a serious competition for testing dollars, and with state-wide contracts becoming more common it’s escalated into a veritable turf war.

The ACT CEO posted a blog questioning the methodology and validity of The College Board’s concordance table, noting that not only has the table not met the validity standards of The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, but The College Board did not make any attempt to work with ACT Inc. while formatting a conversion that includes ACT scores. He noted that The College Board’s response to his blog post, submitted by its senior vice president for research, did not dispute his scientific arguments against use of the new concordance. Not surprisingly, this blog incited a series of back and forth statements between The College Board and ACT Inc. in what vaguely resembled a series of temper tantrums.

Students need to be aware of the limitations of score conversions, since inaccurate information could lead to incorrect assumptions about where they can plausibly expect to get accepted. Without a complete concordance study with both organizations cooperating, the absence of such data merits pause. Allowing college admissions professionals to clarify what scores on either exam really mean in terms of applying to particular schools can be truly beneficial.

This fiasco fell on the heels of the announcement of the Pre-ACT, ACT Inc.’s version of the PSAT. Students should know that many college counselors have questioned ACT Inc.’s motives for releasing yet another (potentially irrelevant and confusing) test, especially one that is not connected to financial merit aid. In related tidbits for their awareness, the launch of the new SAT has resulted in lost scores in at least one location, confused proctoring standards, and more complaints among industry professionals than has been previously reported.

The SAT redesign in 2015 left a 91% of college counselors wary of recommending the test according to one focus group, as there had been no established baseline for scoring offering predictive validity to the exam. Let’s all remember, predictive validity is the entire reason for a standardized testing process. Allegedly.

It is no small surprise that and the list of test optional colleges continues to grow as an answer to greed-induced antics of the standardized testing duopoly. In late 2015, George Washington University, with 10,000 undergraduates, became the largest top 100 private university to opt out of standardized test requirements. Major liberal arts colleges like Bowdoin, Smith and Pitzer are now test optional, as well as nationally acclaimed universities like Wake Forest, University of Texas, and American U. Even the University of Chicago, one of the more highly selective universities in America, went test optional in 2018. The list grows year by year, and students should be aware of those options as they occur.

While this is a promising sign of trends to come, until test optional admission becomes the norm, these two testing giants need to grow up and work toward building reliable tests and a conversion measure that serves students’ best interests.

Teens today are unfortunately coming of age in the time of a for-profit duopoly that capitalizes on college applicants. Teams like the one I am privileged to lead at Gate College System have gone to extraordinary lengths in our mission to equalize access. We aim to level the playing field for students with limited access to test preparation, and provide a holistic approach to this process that equally addresses student needs pertaining to GPA strategies, applications support, and essays mentorship. (GATE is an acronym: Grades, Applications, Testing and Essays.) When it comes to testing we don’t promote one test over another, because frankly my 26-member team of Ivy League professionals and I in many ways see them both as naked emperors.

In truth, this recent ACT versus SAT mudslinging campaign just provides further evidence that teens need to be made aware of what’s impacting their future. As more of them awaken to the profit considerations driving these matters, they at least have a shot at making informed decisions.

After all, higher education isn’t just big business. College is a big deal with a big impact on real lives. Isn’t that what really matters?