The newest outpost from the College Board, the American standardized-testing organization, lies nearly 7,300 miles east of the nonprofit organization's headquarters in New York City. Opened in 2021 within the Mahrauli section of Delhi, the four-person office of school Board India commands an enviable look at Qutub Minar, the earth's tallest brick minaret-a 240-foot marble-and-sandstone structure created to honor the sultan who brought Muslim rule towards the Indian subcontinent in the 12th century.
College Board India, a wholly owned subsidiary from the American nonprofit, has established a beachhead in the organization's little-noticed find it hard to expand its reach, sustain its $1 billion a year in revenue, and preserve its legacy at any given time it seems to be facing an unprecedented threat.
Test-optional and test-blind admissions policies accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic would seem to imperil College Board's SAT college-entrance exam, the rival ACT, as well as their respective parent organizations. This state of affairs follows years of complaints that the exams favor the affluent. And, actually, both of the notoriously secretive testing companies face significant problems, including some not widely understood.
Reports of their demise, however, may be premature. Just because many colleges have stopped requiring the tests doesn't mean students have stopped taking them. Whether or not the number of test takers does drop permanently, both College Board and ACT happen to be quietly preparing for that possibility by finding untouched markets, introducing more products, and doubling down on the most successful of their existing services.
The College Board, located in Lower Manhattan near New York's World Trade Center, is advancing into south and central Asia, where it's building an alliance of universities that have agreed to accept the SAT in admissions where it's pushing its other tests, including the PSAT and Advanced Placement, or AP, exams. It has been expanding the AP and moving versions from it and the PSAT into earlier grades. And it is been locking in contracts with states and districts that have decided to purchase the SAT and administer it free to students on school days, a method pioneered by ACT that the College Board has stealthily co-opted.
The smaller Iowa City -based ACT, originally American College Testing, continues to be trying to diversify, buying up education companies and hiring international specialists to break in to the trendy fields of personalized and adaptive learning. ACT's goal is to deploy its longtime specialty of testing to evaluate how well primary- and secondary-school students are mastering a subject, after which provide lesson plans and homework assignments tailored to every student's skill and knowledge level. ACT can also be trying to get ahead of the potential decline of standardized testing. It's been gauging interest in such ideas as collecting student \”superscores\” for overworked admissions offices by combining grades, results on tests of \”soft skills,\” along with a dashboard of student, neighborhood, and high-school characteristics.
The educational implications are as significant as they've been little noticed. Any new way of sorting applicants to colleges, which both companies seem to be working, will probably invite new kinds of scrutiny of their fairness. Both ACT and the College Board are finding ways to use assessments in earlier grades, most unrelated to college admission. ACT is also developing ways to help teachers identify their students' strengths and weaknesses, harnessing technology to create true types of long-sought personalized and adaptive learning. Workforce development offers other potential markets. Even though the pandemic has taken a toll on both the ACT and SAT exams, the crisis has additionally indicated that consumers and policymakers aren't ready to abandon the tests completely.
In the meantime, ACT and the College Board, both tax-exempt nonprofits, still maneuver in sophisticated ways usually more usual for private companies. Their balance sheets also resemble those of for-profit enterprises. Within the years preceding the pandemic, the school Board and ACT had annual revenues of the combined $1.5 billion. Both seem going to preserve their bottom lines.
Of the two companies, ACT is more susceptible to the pushback from the tests, heavily dependent as it is on its principal product, the ACT, for many of their $400 million in revenues. It saw a steady decline in the number of applicants, to less than 1.8 million in 2021 from the peak in excess of two million in 2021. And that was before the pandemic prompted a record nearly 1,700 universites and colleges to stop requiring the tests, for the time being, and forced ACT to shut a number of its testing centers and reduce capacity in others.
The quantity of students using the SAT, by comparison, was rising within the years before the pandemic, to a record 2.2 million within the class of 2021-4 percent more than within the class of 2021-and even held steady one of the people in the category of 2021, before crashing up against Covid restrictions. Even the pandemic didn't stop greater than a million students from taking the SAT in the summer and fall of 2021. Some families have been visiting whatever open testing centers possible, and tutoring and test-prep companies are reporting all-time-record business. Regardless of new test-optional policies and all the challenges to locating and taking the tests, 46 percent of students who had applied by mid-March to enter college through the Common Application submitted standardized-test scores.
There are some reasons for this endurance. One is that universites and colleges make use of the tests for other reasons than choosing whom to confess, including deciding on scholarship awards and determining which supports students need after they enroll; 67 percent of institutions in an internal ACT survey in February said test scores were too useful to abandon. One more reason: The school Board continues to be steadily getting into contracts with states and school districts to administer the SAT to each student, often under-bidding ACT, which first developed the idea. \”Part of this growth is finding new clients for their product,\” said Akil Bello, education consultant and senior director of advocacy and advancement for the equity-in-testing organization FairTest.
In seven states, high-school students are required to take the SAT and in four others, either the SAT or the ACT. These mandates keep the testing numbers high, although the companies make less cash from selling the tests wholesale to states than from selling these to individual students for $49.50. (Meanwhile, the College Board has lost a few revenue streams from the tests. In January 2021, it jettisoned the SAT essay option, that was expensive for score and which many colleges didn't count anyway, although its own research discovered that it effectively predicted first-semester performance in college, especially among Black students and non-native-English speakers. It also eliminated its SAT subject tests, that have been declining in popularity by double-digit percentages from their peak and overlapped using the organization's more lucrative AP exams.)
The policy of making the ACT or SAT mandatory seems to encourage more high-school students to visit college, several studies have found. In Colorado, students who were designed to take the tests became more prone to attend private, four-year institutions. In Illinois, the amount who chose four-year universities and colleges rose, when compared with those choosing two-year vocational schools. In Maine, college-going went up 3 percentage points, driven mainly by students in rural areas and small towns who previously would not have taken the tests. And in Michigan, the proportion in men and poor students who continued to school increased 1 percentage point. It is also logical to conclude that, with increased students taking the test and choosing their scores to be shared with admissions offices, colleges are identifying and recruiting students they otherwise would never have found.
Even as more institutions go test-optional, many families think submitting a good score can continue to work in their student's favor. After many years of disclosures about special treatment for athletes and the kids of donors and alumni, culminating in the Varsity Blues scandal of federal criminal charges in admissions-influence schemes, students don't seem to think admissions officers' insistence they won't be penalized if they don't submit test results. \”The question is, will families trust that they'll get in with no test score?\” Jim Bock, v . p . and dean of admissions at Swarthmore College, told a conference of education journalists.
Still, the numbers seem eventually bound to meet up with the College Board and ACT alike. Many institutions that went test optional for that pandemic are expected to carry on that policy afterwards, ACT's internal survey found. The 300,000-student University of California system, four fifths of whose applicants take the SAT, decided this past year to suspend considering test scores entirely for at least 2023 and 2024 (as well as, due to Covid-19, for that fall of 2021). Colorado legislators introduced an invoice in January that would require public universites and colleges there to go test optional. 60 % of Americans in a Harris/Yahoo Finance poll released in January said they think admissions offices should stop requiring the ACT and SAT. Even when much more of them don't, new projections from the Western Interstate Commission for Advanced schooling reveal that a declining birth rate will mean a shrinking number of high-school students-and potential test takers-nationally, starting in 2026 and thru 2037.
These changes affect not just the admissions tests but also another less well-known though significant supply of revenue for the testing companies: the sale to college-enrollment managers, for recruiting purposes, from the names of test takers, through ACT's Interest Inventory and also the College Board's Student Search. Student Search, by far the bigger of the two, sells-or \”licenses,\” in College Board parlance-the names of students taking the SAT and PSAT tests, for 47 cents per name, often dozens of times over. They are known in the admissions world as \”the lists,\” and they're necessary to colleges; public universities purchase a median of 64,000 names apiece each year, the enrollment-management company Ruffalo Noel Levitz estimates.
While public attention is focused on if the test-optional movement might reduce test taking, what's less widely understood is how this could affect the lists and the huge amount of revenue they represent-reportedly a lot more than $100 million annually towards the College Board alone. The less students go ahead and take tests, in the end, the fewer names there are to market. Digital-savvy Gen Z SAT takers have already been declining to allow their names be sold, knowing the result will be a flood of unsolicited ads. However the same demographic trends that are affecting the availability of high-school students are also leaving admissions offices at all but the most elite colleges eager for leads.
New competitors see an opening. Cappex, an internet site used by 1.5 million students a year to look for colleges, was acquired last year through the education-consulting firm EAB. The most popular Application also provides universites and colleges using the names of participating students who create accounts but have not yet submitted applications, a spokeswoman confirmed. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling this season started letting students who registered for virtual college fairs choose to get their names provided to admissions offices. The College Board is now mining its BigFuture college-search website for names to market, from among users who subscriber.
The College Board's biggest product is the AP exam, which has grew even larger. Nowadays there are AP courses in 38 subjects offered at 22,152 high schools-up from 18,920 high schools when the College Board's current CEO, David Coleman, took over this year. The amount of AP exams taken rose 21 percent during that time, to almost 5 million, costing from $95 to $143 per test, depending on the subject. AP exams brought in $483 million in 2021, the last year for which financial documents are available, and have come to take into account nearly half of the College Board's annual $1.1 billion in revenue.
\”There's recognition that this may be the golden goose, the SAT, you may make cash on it on the way down, but [that] assessment does not have a long-term future,\” said Jack Buckley, former senior vice president of research at the College Board.
The AP has some competition, but not much. The International Baccalaureate exam, while growing, will come in under one tenth as many U.S. high schools; 82 % of high schools now offer ever more popular dual-enrollment programs, which provide an identical route to early college credit, but they don't necessarily supply the same advantage in admissions as high AP scores.
\”The College Board has been pretty vigorous in marketing [the AP] and in some cases lobbying states to want their state institutions to give credit for AP scores,\” said Chester Finn Jr., former president of the Fordham Institute and co-author of Learning within the Fast Lane: Yesteryear, Present, and Future of Advanced Placement. \”There's also a large amount of pull, because unlike many tests, that one has real-world payoff. Doing well on an AP test might help you save money. It might enable you to get out of a boring course.\”
The only real limitation on AP is that it's difficult for that College Board to introduce more subjects. No schools offer anywhere near all the 38 already available-the average is 10 per school, and of students who take AP courses, only a fifth take a lot more than two, which means the only real route to expansion is to sign on more schools and add more students. In 2021, the school Board debuted a pre-AP program for high-school freshmen and sophomores, for which it charges schools $3,000 per course, each year. And it's been positioning the PSAT, now offered as early as grade 9, as a kind of pipeline to AP classes, bulking up participation both in; the school Board has additionally introduced still other products for even younger students, including SpringBoard, a math and English program that begins in grade 6. (Soon you will see a \”PSAT in utero,\” FairTest's Akil Bello joked.)
The College Board's most ambitious expansion strategy seems to be outside the country, however, in huge markets such as India. The business has been busy there opening College Board India, its first-ever office outside of the Usa (its Latin America branch relies in Puerto Rico), and allowing the India Global Advanced schooling Alliance of 40 top universities, with affiliate members in Hong Kong and Singapore, that have agreed to accept the SAT and thereby \”simplify the process for all students and expand access to high-quality undergraduate education for underserved students.\”
Behind the general public mission statement lies an ambitious strategic business plan the College Board laid out in employment description for its senior director for south and central Asia. This new operation, it said, would \”increase the school Board's reach . . . in India and over the region.\” The alliance along with a related initiative to waive exam fees for lower-income applicants \”has potential to expand the College Board's engagement.\” The Delhi-based staff would be responsible for \”a strategic sales growth intend to drive adoption of College Board programs (AP, pre-AP, PSAT, SAT) over the South & Central Asia region to meet volume & growth goals\” and \”manage existing and build new relationships with key influencers in schools, educational agencies and institutions (e.g., national & provincial ministries of education) . . . with the express objective of growing using College Board programs.\”
The timing, for the College Board, is good. While in the United States the organization's college-admissions tests often symbolize the unfairness of the education system that better prepares higher-income students, standardized exams are seen by universities elsewhere like a fairer way to evaluate applicants than existing methods, which in many countries involve a mishmash of requirements for different programs, institutions, states, or provinces.
\”A large amount of all of those other world is in a different place in terms of the swing of the pendulum,\” said Buckley, who traveled to Germany to talk with higher-education officials about admissions. \”Their concern was that their system was not fair, and they wanted an SAT-like test simply because they thought it would be more fair.\”
In January, the head of Britain's University of Birmingham raised the thought of an American-style standardized test to replace A-levels, the greater advanced of his nation's two national qualification examinations. The formal New Education Policy adopted in India last year requires just one test for admittance to the country's largest universities, which now use a jumble of separate tests and standards. These mixed measures, in turn, have driven grade inflation in high schools that's forcing universities to repeatedly raise their cutoff grades for admission; an economics program at Delhi University that took students with a 90 average about ten years ago, for instance, now needs a 98. So strongly is the SAT considered a strategy to this issue that a major Indian newspaper editorialized in favor of an \”Indian SAT.\”
\”In some of the countries [the College Board is] looking at, primarily the Parts of asia, which have both a large number of students along with a large number of students who go abroad, there's a strong testing culture,\” said Rajika Bhandari,