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SAT going digital in shifting college admissions landscape

FILE - In this photo taken Jan. 17, 2016, a student looks at questions during a college test preparation class at Holton Arms School in Bethesda, Md. The SAT exam will move from paper and pencil to a digital format, administrators announced Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, saying the shift will boost its relevancy as more colleges make standardized tests optional for admission. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The SAT exam will move from paper and pencil to a digital format, administrators announced Tuesday, saying the shift will boost its relevancy as more colleges make standardized tests optional for admission.

Test-takers will be allowed to use their own laptops or tablets, but they’ll still have to sit for the test at a monitored testing site or in school, not at home. The College Board said students without a personal or school-issued device will be provided one for test day.

The format change is scheduled to roll out internationally next year and in the U.S. in 2024. It will also shave an hour from the current version, bringing the reading, writing and math assessment from three hours to about two.

“The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of College Readiness Assessments at the New York City-based College Board, which administers the SAT and related PSAT. “We’re not simply putting the current SAT on a digital platform. We’re taking full advantage of what delivering an assessment digitally makes possible.”

Once essential for college applications, scores from admission tests like the SAT and rival ACT carry less weight today as colleges and universities pay more attention to the sum of student achievements and activities throughout high school.

Amid criticism that the exams favor wealthy, white applicants and disadvantage minority and low-income students, an increasing number of schools have in recent years adopted test-optional policies, which let students decide whether to include scores with their applications.

The pandemic accelerated the trend as testing sessions were canceled or inaccessible.

Local reactions

Butler County Community College already does not use the SAT or ACT in admissions decisions, but Amy Pignatore, Dean of Admissions and College Registrar at BC3, said that the test has had another function at the school since fall 2019.

“We don’t require the SAT or ACT for admittance, but students can submit their scores as an alternative for not having to take our placement test,” she said. “That’s to determine what level of English or math that the student would start in. We adjusted that a couple years back, if they score a certain amount in the SAT English or math portion, then they can be placed into a certain math level or English level to start classes.”

While BC3 itself doesn’t require the SAT, Pignatore recommended that parents of students getting ready to apply to college make sure to find out what any college they are applying to requires.

“The biggest thing I would say for parents is to look at the institution where a student is intending to go and see what its policies are. And specifically, reach out to institutions and their admissions offices to get specific information,” she said. “BC3 did not require (the tests) and did not use them because a community college is open-access, and the intention is that everybody is able to attend college without any barriers.”

Pignatore feels personally that the SAT moving online is a step in the right direction.

“I think a more total look at a student’s academic career and accomplishments gives folks a better idea of how well they’re going to do in school. One standardized test might not be the only factor,” she said.

Slippery Rock University also no longer uses the SAT for admissions.

“We use the SAT for placement reasons, but it does not impact admissions decisions or scholarship awarding,” said Michael May, Director of First Year Admissions.

Amanda Yale, Chief Enrollment Management Officer, explained the decision to go test-optional was brought about by COVID. Before COVID, students were required to submit their ACT or SAT scores.

Approximately 37% to 38% of prospective Slippery Rock students have still been sending their scores in for placement reasons, she said, a slight increase from last year. So far, a little over 4,700 students have submitted applications to Slippery Rock for the fall 2022 semester.

The questions of how the online SAT will impact the process and whether a testing requirement will return are both still to be determined at Slippery Rock.

Yale said the university has taken the question of whether to keep tests optional under advisement, and that because the online SAT is new and a few years away, some decisions are yet to be made.

“I think institutions are trying to figure this out individually for their students, what works best,” she said. “At this point, whether or not it’s going to be required or optional at Slippery Rock, we’ve had positive results with making our standardized testing optional, and we’re looking strongly in that direction.”

Eagle Staff Reporter Julia Maruca contributed to this report.