Will the Path to College Be Tougher for Your Children?

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In the past month we’ve seen many disturbing reports about some parents who took an ugly path through the challenging college admissions process. What impact will Varsity Blues have on you and your kids as they head toward college?

High school grades will continue to be the #1 factor for college admissions. That’s good because grades correlate closely with success in college. But the grading system is far from perfect. Teachers grade differently. Some schools are harder than others. Colleges end up teaching skills that students should have learned in high school.

That’s where standardized tests can help. ACT and SAT measure reading, writing and math skills in a consistent way for all students, without the variations due to teacher inconsistencies or school grading policies or whether the school courses are on-level, honors or AP. There are many ways to calculate a student’s GPA, but only one scoring scale for ACT (or SAT). While ACT and SAT tests are not perfect, the data show the tests do a very good job of accurately measuring the reading, writing and math skills needed in college.

People talk about unfairness of ACT and SAT, saying that students of wealthier families will score higher. A recent article reports that 2016 data from College Board show the average child from families earning over $200,000 per year was 1155 compared to the median score of about 1000 for all students. The 1155 score is good but not even close to the 1380 needed for Southern Cal, the most popular school on the scandal list. If rich kids supposedly score so well, why did the Varsity Blues parents bribe the proctor $10,000 per test to rig the scores? There are people who say that ACT or SAT tests should be administered at no charge during school hours to ALL high school juniors. This already is happening in about 20 states that have signed statewide testing contracts with ACT or College Board. The universal testing proponents also say that practice tests should be administered at no charge during school hours – twice before the real test.  

There is a big concern about the role of learning disabilities in the Varsity Blues scandal. The ACT-SAT cheating could not have happened if the alleged cheaters had tested at their own schools without accommodations. Sometimes the test location was hundreds of miles from the student’s home. If your child has a learning issue like ADHD or dyslexia, you may see some changes to the process for getting extended-time accommodations. Overall about 5% of students qualify for extended time on ACT or SAT tests. ACT and College Board will likely scrutinize similar situations more closely in the future.

On the horizon is a new way of “grading” students without using grades. Rather than reducing four years of a student’s work to a single number, the Mastery Transcript focuses on the higher order skills necessary for success today. In Atlanta the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) includes Galloway, Lovett and Mount Vernon. The MTC is only two years old and has years to go to design a transcript without grades or test scores (AP, SAT, ACT). The 200+ current MTC members are progressive independent schools and their numbers are growing. It may take decades for public schools to adopt the Mastery Transcript system.

As you may know, there are hundreds of colleges that are ‘test optional’ – so it’s up to each student whether to submit ACT or SAT scores to be considered for admission. Keep two things in mind. First, many students do submit test scores for test-optional schools, and those are usually above-average scores. Who wants to submit low scores if you don’t have to?! The take-away is it’s still advantageous to submit high scores, no matter where you apply to college. Second, there are very few scholarship opportunities that are test-optional. If you want to maximize scholarship money (including HOPE), it pays to have high ACT or SAT test scores.

Dogwood’s expert tutors help students improve their skills to achieve their best grades and standardized test scores. Please call Ivan at 678-735-7555 to discuss how any of these topics might apply to your child.