The Billion-Dollar SAT Industry is Facing an Existential Crisis
After years of buildup, will the pandemic finally put an end to Big Test?
Last Monday, the University of Maryland announced that it would extend its test-optional application policy to the spring and fall admissions periods of 2022 and 2023, allowing students to choose whether to submit SAT or ACT scores. It was just the latest nail in the coffin of the college-entrance-exam establishment: the College Board and American College Testing, which administer the tests, and the test-prep ecosystem that has evolved around them.
Like many other schools, Maryland first implemented the test-optional policy last year, for students applying to enter school in fall 2020. But calls for un-testing have been growing for years, and schools had been steadily dropping testing requirements well before Covid hit the U.S. last spring. According to FairTest, an organization focused on addressing issues related to fairness and accuracy in student test-taking and scoring, 1,050 schools had already implemented test-optional policies by September 2019.
But the pandemic caused a seismic shift. With test sites—often, schools—shuttered, students who had spent months preparing to take the SATs and ACTs last year found themselves shut out. According to numbers released by the College Board, the billion-dollar nonprofit that administers the SATs, 183,000 students (more than half) who registered to take the SAT last September were unable to do so; in October, 154,000 students were shut out of test sites. (Iowa City-based American College Testing hasn’t released ACT testing numbers.)
The College Board, which administers the SAT, the PSAT, and the increasingly popular AP tests generates a reported $1 billion-plus in annual revenue and $100 million in untaxed surplus.
Given the inability of students to access testing, more than 660 additional four-year schools, including every Ivy League school, announced new ACT/SAT-optional or test-blind (meaning they won’t consider scores at all) policies since mid-March 2020, according to FairTest. More than 1,695 bachelor-degree granting…