Who Wins With SAT and ACT School Day?

This is a draft.. I never finished it.. but i’m tired of working on it so it goes up as is.

This past fall NYC DOE officially announced their participation in College Board’s SAT School Day program. This program had been quietly piloted in 40 schools in March of 2015, is being expanded to 90ish schools in spring of 2016, until it finally encompasses all of the approximately 496 NYC public high schools in 2017. Naturally, being the eduprenerd (educator + entrepreneur + nerd) and test prep wonk that I am, this rekindled my interest in the SAT School Day Program and sparked the following analysis of its implications, benefits, and drawbacks.

For the uninitiated, SAT School Day is a College Board program that allows school districts to pay College Board to administer the SAT during the school day (like the PSAT has been administered for years). This program, while ostensibly a good thing, raises a lot of questions (but if you know me at all, you know that many many things make me question the rhetoric, motives, benefits, and objectives of various programs). At the crux of the issue when questioning the SAT School Day program is one key question which was so eloquently expressed by our friends Puffy and ODB):


Is it all about the childrens or all about the benjamins?



First, let’s define these programs and give a bit of history.


The College Board’s program is official called the SAT School Day and here is what they want you to know:

The College Board’s SAT School Day program enables states and districts to create a unique opportunity for all of their juniors or seniors to take the SAT in their home schools, thereby providing encouragement for all students to pursue a college education. It also offers improved access and convenience to meet college admission testing requirements.


ACT on the other hand calls their program ACT’s State and District Testing. Here is some of their propaganda:

Participating in ACT State and District testing provides your students with the opportunity to assess their academic skills and level of college readiness in a familiar environment. Having all students participate raises college awareness and exposure among all students, rather than only self-selected, college-bound students. For some students, the experience may help them realize they have the skills to perform college-level coursework.


Official school day college admission testing started in 2001, when ACT began contracting with states and districts to deliver its test in schools. Some states, like Michigan and Connecticut, actually replaced their own statewide assessment tests with a college admissions test in what officials presumably see as a convenient 2-for-1 in which both state assessment needs and college application needs of students are served.

The College Board didn’t get into the game until about 2006 (when Maine decided the SAT should be a graduation requirement), which coincidentally also happen to be the year before ACT finally exceeded the SAT in the total number of test-takers. As of March 2015, 19 state-funded programs include the ACT and 70 districts in 16 states “participate in the SAT School Day Program” (College Board’s and ACT’s wording and reporting make it difficult to determine when I’m comparing apples to apples).

Obviously, the College Board (maybe not so obviously since College Board is a titular non-profit organization) and ACT (also ostensibly a non-profit) charge for the service of administering their tests and the school day programs are no different. For these program, however, it’s the district that pays the testing, administrative, and reporting fees not individual test-takers. So when school day college admission testing is implemented in the school day, school gain the possible advantage of providing students a smoother path into the college application process but this comes at a cost. Like the PSAT and any other school day testing that takes 2 – 4 hours, the SAT and ACT during the day will consume a full day’s academic programming. This not only effects the grades tested but it also impacts the non-testing grades since school staff will have to figure out how to keep the other students quiet enough to administer a test. What this often means is that the entire school loses a day of instruction in order to administer a college admission tests. There are also often issues with the handling of IEP and 504 students, whose required proof to secure accommodations in school often don’t align with the required documentation to secure it with the testing agencies.

interrupts lunch


slide 23: http://education.nh.gov/instruction/accountability/documents/sat-implementation.pdf

It’s for the Children

Everyone in edu seems to make the same claim that ODB did at the 1998 Grammys and often have as much credibility.

The optimist in me hopes that, like Wu-Tang Clan, the in-school testing programs are truly for the benefit of children. If the state is going to spend my hard-earned tax dollars on an education program, I don’t want it to be more bloat and waste. I want that spending to have tangible, logical benefits to the students most in need. Districts have said some of the right things as they sign up for multi-million dollar deals with College Board and ACT, but the difference between intent and practice is sometimes vast. Here are some of the key points that districts have cited in signing on:




 “We did believe that those kids should still be provided with the opportunity to demonstrate college readiness, with college and career readiness really being the theme of today’s education,” Shawn Schmidli, the Flagler County testing coordinator, said.

“We wanted to provide our seniors with an opportunity to take an assessment that will assist them in preparing for their post secondary experience and to create a college-going culture in our schools,” said Monica Goldson, acting chief operating officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools.

“The school day SAT administration promotes a school culture that encourages more students to pursue education after high school,” Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said.


At face value it seems a good idea to provide SAT testing in school. This would provide a wider range of students access to this key component of the college application process and in turn increase the number of students who apply to, and hopefully attend, college. There is even some research (it’s from the College Board unfortunately so I have to look at it askance) that suggests the SAT School Day program has had success.


Report: “The Maine Question: How Is 4-Year College Enrollment Affected by Mandatory College Entrance Exams?

We use a difference-in-differences analytic approach to estimate postsecondary consequences from Maine’s mandate that all public school juniors take the SAT®. We find that, overall, the policy increased 4-year college-going rates by 2- to 3-percentage points and that 4-year college-going rates among induced students increased by 10-percentage points.

One might even conclude that a 10-percentage point increase in college going is an admirable objective if it can be achieved simply by administering a test in schools instead of leaving students to pay for and go take the test on their own. One might argue that the school day testing removes a roadblock for low-income, first-generation, or other under-served students. All of these arguments are reasonable arguments and well worth considering.


It’s all about the benjamins

Edu decisions are probably more often representative of Puff Daddy bold declaration “It’s all about the benjamins”


Despite the potential benefits to students, the question of district-funded college admission testing is one that is fraught politically, ethically, and most of all economically. When I crunch the published numbers for these contracts I’m struggling to find enough fiscal value to justify the expenditures. First, let’s analyze the contracts and determine a rough estimate of the price per student paid by a selection of the districts participating in the SAT School Day program. Keep in mind that all the data here is cobbled together from various internet sites and news articles (why is it so darn hard to find good education statistics).



Based on these calculations it seems that districts have managed to leverage economy of scale and negotiate a slightly lower price per student, if all eligible students show up and take the SAT. 


However, when we consider that many of the same students these deals are purported to serve could have taken the test on the College Board’s or ACT’s dime (fee waivers) rather than on my tax dime, the cable a achieved grows increasingly tenuous. Both the SAT and ACT offer fee waivers, for which basically any student who already qualifies for free or reduced school lunch will qualify. Further, the testing fee waivers also offer additional benefits that I’m not sure are offered as part of the SAT School Day program. When I compare the cost to the district of paying for the test vs encouraging the use of waivers I struggle to see sufficient value.



The Message

Another question that these school day testing agreements create is the question of messaging and optics. If the district is paying for the SAT does that not tell students that taking the SAT is the preferred college entrance exam. Does that not effectively squeeze the ACT out of a market that is doing SAT School Day? Is the district consciously restricting the options for students


message is school day testing sending to those students who do not want to go to college? Have states decided that “college should be an option” is not a sufficient message? Must we send the message that college is the pinnacle of success? Are districts invested in the message that tying together “college and career” is the only way to create opportunity and prepare economically and educationally for the future?


In the Elizabeth School District, the SAT will be a graduation requirement for all students, beginning with the current senior class. Elizabeth will give the test for free during the school day for the first time, which will cost the district $64,000.


Rap References:

In case you missed some of the more obscure rap references in the post above.

“Definition” – Black Star Mos Def and Talib Kweli are two of the most intelligent emcees in rap and they deliver on “Definition.” The video and song Brooklyn anthems that refer to police violence, quality of life and the murders of Biggie and Pac.

“The Message” – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five“ The Message” was one of the earliest manifestations of Hip-Hop the articulated the pain, struggle and trials of living in the Bronx during the Ronald Reagan era. “Its like jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under,” the chorus says.


Reference sources:



















Interesting blogs:









The Board allowed the former Superintendent to enter into a contract with the College Board to allow all enrolled juniors in the DeKalb County School District to gain access to the official online SAT course and participate in the SAT during the school day on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. The District appropriated $195,000.00 from the general fund to pay for the SAT exams for all juniors.





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