Category Archives: Standardized Testing

Recordings of NACAC’s Test-Optional Forum Now Available for Purchase

I had the outstanding opportunity to watch the Transitioning to Test-Optional Admission Forum recently hosted by NACAC.

There have been so many ongoing changes in the standardized testing world, and it seems new decisions are made on a weekly basis. It’s often a challenge to keep up and stay informed.

Watching these webinar sessions provided valuable insights into the actual, real-life decision-making processes regarding test-optional policies and the reasons behind them.

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A Suggested Framework for Prison Higher Education Reform

An oft-forgotten yet important subsection of college and university programs are those that take place in prison. While these programs provide prisoners with an otherwise unachievable education, many have problems that prevent prisoners from accessing equitable higher education. These prison programs often are considered selective, with applicants having to prove their worth through standardized tests, essays, and even proof of extracurricular activities. These requirements can be difficult for the average student to meet, let alone an incarcerated student. Recognizing these problems, Erin Corbett and Second Chance Educational Alliance, Inc. (SCEA) created a three-principled framework to help transform these outdated prison programs into more equitable ones.

The Framework

  • Reconceptualize an admission process that accounts for incarcerated student access to time, information, and opportunity
    • Broaden partnerships with community-based organizations to ensure community representation in the admission and enrollment process
    • Implement an open and rolling admission timeline
    • Create an application process that centers on portfolio assessments rather than GPA or standardized test scores
      • Imprisoned students are often enrolled in life skills programs that provide certifications upon completion. These certificates can be used in place of more traditional guideposts of student success.
    • Shift assessment and program models to leverage a competency mastery model
      • Root curricula and credentials in competency mastery rather than credit hours
        • Project based learning is an excellent way for students to connect with their studies and demonstrate mastery
      • Implement and strengthen avenues to award credit for prior learning
        • Dismantle college-in-prison programs that do not accept credits for prior learning
        • Award credit though Prior Learning Assessments (PLA)
          • Using PLAs in prisons have shortened the average degree completion time and resulted in a 43 percent graduation rate compared to 15 percent in programs not using PLAs
        • PLA Considerations:
          • Waive prerequisites that would normally increase time-to-degree completion
          • Use PLA credits to meet general education and program/major requirements
          • Fund programs that award credit for prior learning

Authors of the framework hope that by better serving minority populations in prison, previous practices that have historically only benefited the privileged will be upended.


NACAC Research Associate Cameron Hair welcomes comments and story ideas at

Problems Associated with Test Optional Policies During a Pandemic

The Background

Test-optional policies have become popular among institutions of higher education in recent years, whether due to holistic admission policies or as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. While many celebrate the increase of test-optional admission policies as a win for equitable admission, authors Dominique J. Baker and Akil Bello highlight three major problems associated with the quick adoption of these policies. The authors also break down recommendations for both policymakers and practitioners that may help blunt the negative impacts they believe test-optional policies have on students.

Problems with Test-Optional Policies

The first problem highlighted by Baker and Bello involves requiring standardized testing to graduate high school. Even though many colleges and universities are going test-optional, 25 states require a standardized test to receive a high school diploma. However, due to the rise in test-optional policies as a result of the pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult for students in these states to schedule these exams.

The second problem associated with test-optional policies in the age of coronavirus involves the swiftness with which decisions to go test-optional were made. These decisions are being made at faster speeds than ever before, which does not allow significant time for colleges and universities to prepare for the change.

The last problem with these policies involves the new reliance on student’s prior academic performance. As academic grades have been completely upended due to coronavirus, using these grades as predictors of college success no longer is viable.

Recommendations for Practitioners

  • Ensure that initial screening policies do not make negative assumptions about those who do not submit tests compared to those who do submit.
    • Research suggests that taking standardized tests multiple times correlates with an increase in scores. Minority students take standardized tests at lesser rates than white students, indicating that at least some of the score differential between white and minority students could be caused by familiarity with the standardized test.
  • Address the relationship between test scores and merit aid
    • The best approach would be to adopt a test blind policy when awarding scholarships.
  • Ensure that all policies involving test score use is transparent and inclusive.

Recommendations for Policymakers

  • Certain states need to revisit the standardized test requirement for high school graduation. With coronavirus still rampant, it is unlikely that students will be able to meet this requirement.
  • State Boards of Education should consider a systematic way to communicate grade changes from the most recent academic term.
    • Underfunded schools likely do not currently have this capacity.
    • States should create a single database of grading changes that occurred during the Spring 2020 semester that can be made available to admission professionals.
  • State Boards of Education should create better communication practices with colleges about the impact coronavirus has on different communities.
    • This context allows admission professionals to access contextual information while evaluating students.
  • State Boards of Education should provide coronavirus-related sickness and death rate information linked to the nearest high school or college. This would increase time for review as well as provide insight into the struggles students face during the pandemic.

NACAC Research Associate Cameron Hair welcomes comments and story ideas at

ACT to Offer Individual Section Retesting


Starting next fall, students will be able to retake single sections of the ACT.

The testing company announced the change earlier this week as part of a slate of new options for test-takers.

“For the first time in the 60-year history of the ACT test, students who have already taken the test will be allowed to retake individual ACT section tests (English, math, reading, science and/or writing), rather than having to take the entire ACT test again,” officials announced in a press release.

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A New Way to Measure Student Success


Could a video game ever replace standardized testing’s role in college admission?

Enter 27-year-old Rebecca Kantar and Imbellus Inc., her start-up that aims to reinvent testing.

Imbellus wasn’t started with the recent bribery scandal in mind, but Kantar told Bloomberg Businessweek that it is “cheatproof.”

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ACT to Launch Free Test Prep Tool

Free test prep materials will soon be available online for students preparing to take the ACT.

The Iowa-based testing company announced this week that it would launch ACT Academy in the spring. The platform will include video lessons, interactive practice questions, full-length practice tests, and educational games.

Each student will receive a personalized study plan based on their scores from the ACT test, the PreACT, ACT practice tests, or diagnostics completed within the ACT Academy platform.

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Testing Companies to Offer More Free Score Reports to Low-Income Students


New policies unveiled this week by ACT and The College Board will reduce the fees low-income students encounter in the college admission process.

Starting in September, students who use a fee waiver to register for the ACT will be able to send up to 20 free score reports to the institutions of their choosing. Previously, ACT test-takers were allotted only five free reports, with each additional transmission costing $13.

Under the new College Board policy — which goes into effect next spring — low-income students who take the SAT will be able to send unlimited score reports to colleges. Previously, low-income SAT test-takers were allotted up to eight free score reports, with additional transmissions costing $12 each.

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List Shows Where Students Can Self-Report Test Scores

In an effort to make the college application process more affordable, a growing number of US colleges and universities now allow students to self-report their test scores.

With help from counselors and students, The Princeton Review is tracking the trend. A list of institutions that accept self-reported scores is posted on the company’s blog.

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Free ACT/SAT Exams Boost College Enrollment Rates


College enrollment rates increase when high schools cover the cost of college entrance exams, new research suggests.

The finding — published by Education Finance and Policy — is based on a study of six classes of high school juniors who attended Michigan schools from 2003-04 to 2007-08. The state has required teens to take a college entrance exam since 2007.

“Overall, the policy increased the probability that students would enroll in college by about 2 percent,” according to an Education Week article about the new research. “Students at schools with higher poverty rates increased their college enrollment rates by 6 percent, and those students who had a low to middling probability of taking the ACT before the policy took effect saw their rates improve by 5 percent afterward.”

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