High School Counselors Take on the SAT, and Other News from NACAC 2007

The hot debate at NACAC's 2007 annual conference was about whether some aspects of the college admission process are unfair to students.

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The hottest issue at National Association for College Admission Counseling's (NACAC) 2007 annual conference last week was the debate whether some aspects of the college admission process are unfair to many students. The high school counselors who attended had numerous issues with the SAT and ACT, particularly that these tests are given too much importance in admissions decisions. Counselors generally resented the fact that for students to "succeed" on the SAT, one had to "teach to test." Many counselors suggested that all colleges should be "test optional."

The tension between counselors and admissions deans on these issues seems to be growing. NACAC's State of College Admission Report for 2007, presented at the conference, reports that 60.4 percent of colleges say that standardized test scores (SAT or ACT) are of "considerable importance" in the admission decisions. This was near the highest level ever, and up from around 45 percent in 1993. What has changed to make admission testing more important in admissions over the past 15 years? One main reason cited by colleges is grade inflation at the high school level, which makes it much harder for colleges to compare high school grade-point averages and transcripts. Therefore, admissions deans need some standard benchmark. Another factor has been the decline in high schools' reporting high school class standing.

Another popular question was whether there would be a domino effect caused by Harvard, Princeton, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Virginia dropping their early admission plans. The answer came from Kaplan Test Prep's annual survey of admissions officers at 322 top colleges and universities in July/August 2007. One hundred percent of those schools with early admission plans said they don't plan to stop their use of that program.

The Kaplan survey also offered insight into the boycott of U.S.News & World Report's annual peer assessment survey by a small number of college presidents. Kaplan found that of the 322 schools surveyed, 93 percent said they had participated in U.S. News's 2008 edition of the college rankings. Among schools that participated in the rankings this year, 97 percent reported that they plan to participate again next year and in the foreseeable future. Fifty-nine percent of participating schools said that college ranking reports are ultimately beneficial to students during the application process.