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  • Writer's pictureDina

The Impact of the Big Test Industry

As we’ve heard and read in the news these past few years, college have been demonstrating their support of the test optional movement, and some schools, like the UCs, have even taken a harder stance – eliminating tests altogether.

According to Susan Paterno of Chapman University, “The test prep industry has become a multi-billion-dollar industry, and it's growing and expanding at a high rate… As more and more kids take these high-stakes tests and enroll in these test prep programs, the competition to get into selective colleges just shoots through the roof, and the competition to win merit scholarships reaches a fever pitch."

The implication here is that if students from middle to upper classes are faced with these time-consuming and resource-consuming processes, imagine what students from “underfunded, poorly resourced high schools” must face.

In response, many four-year colleges and universities will not require students to submit a test score. According to FairTest Executive Director Bob Schaeffer, test optional and test blind have become the new normal. College Board reps have shared the sentiment, publicly supporting colleges in introducing more flexibility and choice into the admissions process.

Just little background info – The SAT was created in 1926 and was used as the main test for the Harvard National Scholarship program; just 10 years later, Harvard required all candidates to take the SAT. Soon after, the SAT was used by other Ivy League schools to help recruit students. The SAT, naturally, gained popularity. In 1959, the ACT was created as an alternative to the SAT. While the ACT has been gaining popularity, its revenue numbers still pale in comparison to the SAT. In 2019, the ACT reported $302 million in revenue while the SAT (College Board) reported $1.1 billion in revenue. By the way, the SAT is administered by ETS, which reported $1.3 billion in revenue. In addition, the College Board also handles the AP tests, which reported $490 million in revenue, more than the ACT!

PSAT is offered at many schools, rather than Pre ACT, which helps boost College Board’s product. To address the bias that favors wealthier families, several states have passed laws, such as New York’s bill to stop “certain public institutions of higher education from using the scholastic aptitude test and ACT assessment in the admissions process on and after the [2024-2025] academic year for New York resident applicants and requires SUNY and CUNY to create a new standardized test by the [2026-2027] academic year.”

Another viewpoint, however, is that by mandating tests, “you would then make sure that some kids weren't slipping through the cracks, who might be very well prepared for college but didn't know that they didn't see themselves as college material or they were first-generation kids." Some schools, such as the University of California system, will work on creating their own tests.

Still, according to FairTest, “the value of the test industry, as in the test prep industry, to the college process: it’s fairly minimal… It actually hurts the college process. Testing predicts above GPA maybe five, six percentage points of first-year GPA. … So to create a multi-billion-dollar industry around administering and preparing for these tests seems like fairly minimal return on investment for the country.”

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