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Alabama School District to Pay Students for High ACT Scores

by Suada Kolovic

In a perfect world, every student would have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and an insatiable passion for learning. Reality check: We don't live in a perfect world and motivating underachieving students to perform well in school and on standardized tests is a serious challenge. What should educators do? The school board in Huntsville, Alabama has decided to try an approach many exasperated parents have considered: cold, hard cash for high ACT scores.

To encourage students to apply themselves while ensuring the district maintains an academic edge in the state, the school board unanimously agreed to pay students for achieving benchmark scores on the ACT. Here’s the breakdown: Benchmark scores will be set and for every component of the test a student reaches a benchmark score, $50 will be earned. If a student gets an overall score of 22 or higher, they’ll get an extra $100 and students will have the opportunity to earn $300 total! "The ACT is important," said Superintendent Casey Wardynski. "It's important for our kids but they may not all realize it because they're taking it junior year, or some may not think they're going to college or want to have that test under their belt for when they do choose to go to college," she added.

With another round of standardized test dates just around the corner, students are praising the initiative while concerned parents are questioning where the funds will come from and if it's a form of bribery. So, future ACT test takers, where do you stand? Do you think providing a financial incentive is right way to motivate students or not? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


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by Emily

The National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) plans to address questions of early decision admission and the role of standardized testing in the admission process in panels during their annual conference this week.  In preparation, they have released the results of a survey showing that early decision admissions had begun to fall, as well as commentary on the state of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) in college admissions.

A special panel convened by NACAC released a statement suggesting that standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT may play too prominent a role in college admissions.  While the report emphasizes that standardized tests can play an important role in the admissions process, especially in helping students choose which schools may be a good fit for them, it also declared the importance of avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to testing.  This position represents a shift from previous NACAC commissions' stances on standardized testing.

Another survey released this week by NACAC highlighted other shifts in college admissions, namely a slowing of the increase in early decision admissions as compared to previous years.  Many schools are giving students going through the college application process the option to make a binding committment to attend that college if accepted in a process known as early decision.  Critics argue that this puts poorer students who are unwilling to commit to attending a college without receiving their financial aid package at a distinct disadvantage in being considered for admission.  While many colleges still are embracing the idea, this shift in figures could show some hesitation on the part of admission offices or students regarding the still-controversial issue.

Additionally, the survey illustrated some doubt regarding a new practice of priority applications, which are sent to students based on a variety of criteria and are already partially completed.  Priority admission applications are sent by the school, rather than requested by the student, and are typically sent out based on prior contact with the admissions office, test scores, or geographic location.  Only 4% of these forms, which occasionally come with an application fee waiver, are sent to students based on economic status.

Other survey results showed that more students seem concerned with ensuring they make the right college choice, and that most students who apply to schools are given the opportunity to go to college.  An increasing number of students are applying to more than seven colleges, and that about the same number of students as the previous year applied to more than three schools.  Nationally, 68 percent of students who apply to colleges are admitted.  Online applications also continue to gain popularity.


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by Emily

For high school seniors entering the last leg of the college search this fall, questions and frustrations are bound to arise, and the early source of confusion this year appears to stem from standardized testing. The final SAT and ACT test dates before college applications are due take place this month, meaning more students will soon have their first encounter the College Board's SAT Score Choice program, which allows students to choose which SAT Scores they want to report to colleges.

On the surface, Score Choice seems like a great innovation and a source of stress relief for students, and it might prove to be such if it were accepted by all colleges. However, a number of colleges and universities require applicants to report all scores from all standardized tests taken, and this is where students are running into problems.

Specifically, not all schools that require the Common Application, an application shared by many private colleges and intended to simplify the application process, share policies on reporting SAT scores, yet the Common App currently doesn't allow students to self-report different SAT scores to different schools. This has left students unsure of how to address what should be one of the easiest sections of their college application (after all, it's just transcribing numbers).

New York Times writer Jacques Steinberg took up this question for the paper's blog The Choice, and his answer should help students get over this bump and onto the more difficult parts of the Common Application, like the application essays. The advice he received when posing this question to the executive director of the Common Application was to simply leave the section blank. The College Board echoed this in a written statement.

Basically, since colleges will receive the official SAT scores (or ACT scores) you report to them when you take the test, they don't need you to also self-report on the Common Application. The question is asked only because some colleges take self-reported scores into account to get the ball rolling on the admissions process while waiting for your official scores. So if you're completing the Common Application and have multiple test scores that you don't plan to report to every college on your list, you can safely abstain from self-reporting your SAT scores.

However, the jury's still out on whether Score Choice will ultimately be worth the hassle it's begun to present to schools and students this year. Opting to withhold your lowest test scores may not make that big a difference in your admissions prospects, anyway, since taking the SAT multiple times was popular before withholding scores was even an option. In fact, some schools use your highest scores from all test dates, even dates with lower composites, when considering your application for admission or university scholarships, so withholding the test score where you finally nailed the verbal but completely tanked on the math section could conceivably hurt your prospects slightly in some cases.


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by Emily

Most high school seniors are now entering the last leg of their college search and selecting the colleges to which they plan to apply. Many are already beginning the college application process, especially if they plan to meet rapidly approaching early decision or early action deadlines at their top choice colleges. For students looking for a last bit of data with which to game the college admissions system, the National Association for College Admission Counseling has just released their annual State of College Admission report.  Included below are some highlights.

Competition: The report shows that, on the whole, while most colleges and universities aren't terribly selective, they appear to be becoming slightly more selective on average as they deal with larger numbers of students applying for admission. Between 2001 and 2007, the average acceptance rate at colleges and universities surveyed declined from 71.3 percent to 66.8 percent. Colleges largely seem to be expanding enrollment to meet increasing applications, though, with the growth in applications (24 percent) only slightly outpacing the growth in enrollment (20 percent) between 2002 and 2006.

The number of applications colleges received continued to grow in 2008, with approximately three out of four colleges reporting an increase in applications over the previous year. Students also appear to be applying to more colleges on the whole, with the number of students submitting 7 or more applications growing from 19 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2008. This growth in applications, especially multiple applications, has resulted in a decrease in yield (the percentage of admitted students who ultimately enroll) by about 4 percentage points. However, a student's odds of getting admitted off the wait list remain largely unchanged, hovering around 1 in 3 for 2008.

Selection Process: Also included in the survey were questions about the criteria college admission counselors considered most important when reviewing college applications. The following criteria were given "considerable importance" (the highest level of importance in the survey) by college counselors:

  • Grades in college prep classes (75% of counselors gave it considerable importance)
  • Strength of high school curriculum (62%)
  • Admission test scores, such as SAT and ACT (54%)
  • Class rank (19%)
  • Criteria that received less importance in consideration were race, first-generation college student status, gender, alumni ties, high school attended, state or county of residence, and ability to pay.  Inside Higher Ed has an article with some nice charts comparing the level of importance given to all of the above criteria.

The Take Away: While there's a lot of attention given to schools that are more selective, the majority of colleges admit most students who apply. While more students are kicking the college application process into overdrive and applying to seven or more schools, these students still make up a minority of the college-going crowd. Additionally, while applications are increasing everywhere, the pace at which early applications are increasing at early-action and early-decision schools seems to be slowing.

Overall, the admission process is only as frantic as you make it. However, if you are applying to a lot of highly selective schools and the 1-in-3 chance of getting off the wait list if you wind up on it scares you, make sure you're putting your all into your applications. Get going on those application essays early and make sure to leave time for feedback and revision. Also, you'll want to approach your counselor for any letters of recommendation early--another item noted in the NACAC report was an increased workload for college counselors nationwide.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

For those planning on attending graduate school, the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, has long been a part of the admissions process that seems largely unrelated to their academic ambitions. The Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the test, has been planning and promising alterations for years. Friday, they announced their latest attempt, a plan that would eliminate some of the most onerous questions and revamp the scoring to more accurately reflect students' abilities.

The new GRE, which is set to be implemented in the fall of 2011, will keep the computer-adaptive testing format and the three sections (writing, quantitative, and verbal) of the current GRE, but will make some substantial changes to scoring, student responses, and the content of some sections. Possible GRE scores will change from a 200 to 800 range on the verbal and quantitative sections to a range of 130 to 170, a change which is meant to deemphasize minor differences in scores. The test will also become slightly longer, changing from 3.25 hours to 3.5 hours in length.

The biggest change to the test format will be the possibility to skip and return to questions. Currently, the computer-adaptive format presents test-takers questions they must answer before proceeding, giving them easier or harder questions based on their response to determine their score. The new format will adapt section-by-section, rather than question-by-question, hopefully giving a more accurate picture of test-takers' abilities. The ability to skip questions and return to them later is likely to improve students' concentration and scores as they no longer dwell on the questions they missed--a strategy for taking standardized tests that the GRE's current format makes difficult to practice.

Changes to the sections of the GRE will be more minor, but could still make a big difference to some test-takers. The writing section consists of two prompts, one asking for a logical analysis and one asking for an argumentative essay. It will remain largely unchanged in the new version of the test. The quantitative section asks multiple-choice math questions students are likely to have encountered in high school and college. ETS plans to add a calculator for this section. The verbal section will undergo the biggest changes, with questions on analogies and antonyms eliminated, as these have practically necessitated rote memorization of vocabulary words, largely defeating the purpose of the test.

Prospective graduate students in 2009 and 2010 will still be stuck with the current version of the GRE. Although some students may love analogies and obscure vocabulary words and be sad to see them go, students who have been struggling with elements of the current test may get some relief if they decide to apply for graduate school in 2011. Whether the GRE changes are actually implemented according to schedule remains to be seen, but so far, the revisions haven't been met with much opposition.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Public high schools in eight states will introduce a program next year that will allow their high school sophomores to test out of their junior and senior years if they are interested in enrolling in community college early.

The program is the brainchild of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), and was announced Wednesday. Those who do well on the tests, which will be called "board exams," but aren't interested in going to a community college will be able to continue taking college prep courses at their high schools to prepare for filing applications to the selective schools of their choice. Those who fail the exams will be eligible to retake them at the end of their junior and senior years.

According to the NCEE, the program's goals are to reduce the number of college students in remedial courses, and to better prepare high school students for campus life and the rigors of academics at institutions of higher education. Today, nearly half of the students in community colleges take one or more remedial courses and many are never able to complete developmental courses and move on to credit-level courses to complete their college degree, according to the NCEE. 

Students would be tested on a broad range of topics, including the standard English and math. Between 10 to 20 schools in the eight states involved will offer the program, modeled after existing programs in countries like Australia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands, in the 2010-2011 academic year. According to an article in the New York Times, the program has received a $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help states and school districts get the program running. Start-up costs for school districts would be about $500 per student; that would cover the costs of courses, tests, and teacher training. To cover future costs, the eight states in the program plan to apply for a portion of the $350 million in federal stimulus money designated for improving public school testing, according to the New York Times.

The eight states offering the program are Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. The NCEE hopes the program, which was a part of recommendations set into motion by the NCEE in 2006, will spread across the country. Their other recommendations included getting children in school by the time they were 3 years old and giving states control over local school districts.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The number of undergraduates registering for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) increased by about 675,000 in 2009, a record 9 percent increase over the previous year. The news was announced this week by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which also reported a 6 percent increase in graduate admissions in 2009.

The ETS attributes some of the increase to the number of MBA programs that now accept the GRE rather than the GMAT exclusively. (In 2009, there was a 68 percent increase in the number of business schools accepting GRE scores for their MBA programs, and the number of GRE test-takers who took the GRE to get into business school doubled.) This also makes it even easier for those unsure about whether they'd like to go to business school or another graduate program.

The news comes at a time when the ETS is getting ready to roll out a series of changes to the graduate exam. The new GRE is set to be implemented in the fall of 2011. Changes will include the possibility to skip and return to questions, a change from a 200 to 800 range on the verbal and quantitative sections to a range of 130 to 170, and an increase in length from 3.25 hours to 3.5 hours. The ETS says the changes are meant to allow for a test that paints a more accurate picture of test-takers' abilities, as it will rely less on strategy—the ability to skip questions and return to them later is likely to improve students’ concentration and scores as they no longer dwell on the questions they missed—and more on the accuracy of their answers.

If you're considering registering and eventually taking the exam, we have a number of resources to help you master the GRE and learn more about what you need to know about the new GRE format, since you'll now need to freshen up those test-taking skills even if you've taken the GRE in the past. The most important thing to know is that you should prepare for this test as you would for any other standardized test. Chances are it's been a while since you've taken the ACT and SAT, and while the study skills you honed to complete those exams successfully are useful on the GRE, it's important to get to know the specific content you'll be tested on when taking the GRE. Practice tests are never a bad idea. Finally, don't stress too much. You can retake the GRE up to five times in one year.


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by Agnes Jasinski

American University has expanded its “test-optional” application policy, giving all students who apply to the school before Nov. 1 the option of choosing whether or not to submit their ACT or SAT scores as part of their applications. The college had up to this point only allowed early-decision candidates to opt out of providing standardized test scores.

Although the early-decision deadline is later—Nov. 15—being accepted by a college early typically means you need to decide right then and there whether you’ll accept admission to that college or go elsewhere. Opening up the policy to even those regular decision students will give more students the power to decide what they’d like to include in their applications to the school. Those students who do take advantage of the policy and submit their applications early won’t necessarily hear back about whether they’ve been accepted to the school early; they’ll be notified by the regular April 1 deadline.

According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a good number of even the early-decision candidates chose not to submit their standardized test scores last fall. Of the 538 early-decision applicants the school received, which in itself was an increase of about 33 percent over the previous year, 191 did not submit test scores, according to The Chronicle. While administrators said it takes longer to review applications that don’t include the test scores, giving students who may not do as well on their standardized tests but who excel elsewhere an opportunity for admission is worth it. Admissions officials now pay more attention to the kinds of courses students took, including AP classes and other college-level work.

Standardized testing has been criticized for years, with the National Association for College Admission Counseling going so far as to say the practice should end altogether in favor of a more holistic application process. American University isn’t the only college to go test-optional in recent years, either. Saint Michael’s College in Vermont no longer requires that potential new students submit SAT scores as part of their application process. The school reasons that some students are better test-takers than others, and that there are other ways to evaluate applicants instead. Students there may still choose to submit either their ACT or SAT scores if they feel it will help their applications.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Although average ACT scores were lower this year than the previous year, it wasn’t all bad news on this year’s ACT score report. High school graduates who took the test this year are slightly more prepared for college than their peers in years prior, despite the average lower scores.

According to the report, The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2010, about 71 percent of test-takers met at least one of four college readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading or science. About 47 percent met between one and three benchmarks, and 24 percent met all four benchmarks. Last year, 23 percent met all four benchmarks; in 2006, that figure was around 21 percent.

An article from the Associated Press in USA Today this week explains that test-takers this year were a more diverse group of students. While they did score lower overall, how they did meeting benchmarks is encouraging to the authors of the test. To measure college readiness, the standardized test translates students’ subject area scores into data that shows their chances of receiving passing grades in college coursework. The content on the ACT can relate to courses like biology and general education social science and psychology classes, for example. It’s also important to note that more students in general are taking the test, so slight gains like this in any area may mean more than you think.

Other data pulled from the report included the following:

  • 29 percent of test-takers were of a minority group, up from 23 percent in 2006.
  • Average scores for Hispanic students decreased slightly, from 18.7 last year to 18.6 this year, but the number of students from that student population taking the ACT has nearly doubled in size.
  • Average scores among other race/ethnic groups were 23.4 for Asian students, 22.3 for white students, 19 for American Indian students, and 16.9 for black students.
  • The national average for all student groups was 21, down from 21.1 last year. (The ACT is measured on a scale of 1 to 36.)
  • Those students who took a core curriculum in high school were more likely to meet their college readiness benchmarks; students who took more than three years of math in high school were more than 42 percent more likely to meet their benchmarks in that subject area than those who didn’t.

While more colleges are going “test-optional” when it comes to providing standardized test scores as part of your college application, both the ACT and SAT remain important at most institutions of higher education. At those schools with a high number of applicants, there may even be a cut-off score as part of the admissions process. You’ll probably then still need to take either test, despite growing criticism over the effectiveness of standardized tests. Take a look at our Standardized Testing section for more information on how you can better prepare for not only undergraduate admissions tests, but graduate and professional school tests like the GRE and LSAT as well.


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ABA to Law Schools: "We (Might) Object to LSAT Reporting!"

Change Could Allow More Flexibility, More Diverse Applicant Pools

January 14, 2011

ABA to Law Schools: "We (Might) Object to LSAT Reporting!"

by Alexis Mattera

Ophiuchus, schmophiuchus. If you’re considering applying to law school, this next story will take precedence over what moon is in your house.

In the wake of many undergraduate programs making the SAT and ACT optional, the American Bar Association is considering ending the requirement that law schools use the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Will the elimination of the LSAT create an influx of underqualified applicants? Just the opposite: This shift is expected to create more diverse applicant pools without leading to any loss in academic performance.

If the ABA approves the change – Donald J. Polden, dean of the law school at Santa Clara University and chair of the ABA committee studying the standards, said a "substantial majority" indicated that they would like to drop the LSAT requirement – all law schools will have the option to dismiss LSAT requirements but will not be forced to. Polden went on to say that while there are "good arguments" for the change, he was not endorsing it and didn’t expect Santa Clara to alter its admissions policy.

Standardized testing is the norm but I believe it’s not the only way students should be measured. Do you think this proposed change is a step in the right direction in law school admissions or think the current system is fine as is? Our scholarship search and law scholarships page will be useful to you either way!


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