What Happened at the NACAC Convention

The debate over college admissions tests like the SAT was the hot topic in Seattle.

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The hottest issue at the National Association for College Admission Counseling's (NACAC) 2008 annual conference last week in Seattle was the future of standardized testing. This debate was triggered by the release of the Report of the NACAC Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission that made recommendations on how the SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests should be used in college admissions. The session at the conference that discussed this report drew the largest crowd by far. The report itself stressed that colleges should use standardized tests responsibly and "that a 'one size fits all' approach for the use of standardized tests in undergraduate admission does not reflect the realities facing our nation's many and varied colleges and universities."

However, it remains to be seen what the outcome of this report will be because it was far more noteworthy for what it did not say. It did not call for colleges to abandon the use of the SAT and ACT test in admissions or push for more colleges to go "test optional," as many have recently. Many high school counselors had hoped that the NACAC report would be more forceful in criticizing the SAT and ACT tests. It was unclear whether any colleges that currently require either the SAT and ACT for admission will now become "test optional." In fact, the admission deans on the conference panel who were from schools that currently require the test—including Harvard University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Washington, and Georgetown University—implied they were unlikely to stop requiring the SAT or ACT in the immediate future.

The use of the SAT and ACT tests by U.S. News in our America's Best Colleges rankings was part of the report, and we wrote about that in About That NACAC Report on the SAT, which we posted before the convention. We still have no plans at present to change our college rankings methodology and stop using the SAT and ACT.

Other conference news was that Lloyd Thacker, the head of the Education Conservancy, a nonprofit organization against commercialization in higher education, demonstrated a prototype of a conservancy website, currently called College Speaks, which seeks to create an alternative to the U.S. News Best Colleges website. The intent of College Speaks is to offer high school counselors a resource to which they could send their students in order to learn about the college admission process in a thoughtful and intelligent manner. Thacker is a well-known critic of our rankings. Many at the session raised questions about the viability of this project. Jeff Brenzel, dean of admissions at Yale University, said that he backed the site and its goals. However, he also questioned whether the website will attain funding for its long-term sustainability and if it will be able to break through the competitive landscape of all the other college admissions information that is on the Internet. How much time does Thacker have to succeed? Brenzel said the site needed to be up and running within two years in order to take advantage of the current window of opportunity.