Should your high school student take ACT or new SAT? And where are those June SAT scores?

My twins are rising seniors and face the question of whether to focus on the SAT or the ACT. Like many of their metro Atlanta peers, they took both tests in June. While ACT scores from the June 11 test date came back in 10 days, students are still waiting for their SAT scores from June 4.

In talking to the founder of an Atlanta-based test prep company, he asked why it was ACT could turn around scores in well under two weeks while SAT will not return scores until July 21. He also told me he's telling clients to take the ACT because the new SAT is an unknown and it's uncertain how colleges will regard it.

A second SAT/ACT prep coach in Atlanta told me the same thing. She is advising students to focus their energies on the ACT this year.

I asked a college admissions officer her view on the new SAT vs. ACT. She said the class of 2017 is in a bind because colleges are unsure what the new SAT scores mean in terms of student performance in college. But she said a high score is still a high score, and students will not be penalized for submitting the SAT.

(I've talked to several rising seniors across metro Atlanta who were advised by their counselors to take the old SAT early in their junior years and they did. They are not taking the new SAT at all.)

A selling point of the new SAT -- which rolled out in March -- is students can prep for free because of a pact between the College Board and the noted online learning company Khan Academy. As a result, some students have bypassed paid prep in favor of  Khan since it's free. An advantage is that the Khan prep -- developed with College Board input --  clearly aligns with the new test. (Here is my blog from a year ago announcing the free Khan prep with a link to it. )

My kids used Khan, but I can't tell you if it helped since I haven't seen their scores yet. Many parents tell me the benefit to paid prep classes is their kids do the review and take full practice tests because someone is forcing them to do so.

My view: If your kid is a good test taker and disciplined, they can probably prep on their own. If your child has weak areas -- especially math -- and is not likely on their own to take prep tests, identify those weaknesses and work on them, send them to prep. I have talked to kids who saw tremendous score jumps after intense prep programs.  I have also talked to kids who saw no jump but admit to doing little of the home practice recommended by the prep company.

I put the concerns about the new SAT to the College Board. Here is what David Gupta, vice president of the Southern Region College Board, said:

We believe that assessments must do more for students. This year, the College Board changed not only the SAT, but the things around the test to secure opportunity for students. A key piece of this effort is our partnership with Khan Academy to give all students access to free, high quality practice resources.

We have over 1.5 million students practicing on Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy; an estimated four times the total population of students who use commercial test prep classes in a year. Our data also shows that almost half of all students who took the first administration of the new SAT on March 5 used Official SAT Practice to prepare (compared to 10% who used a commercial test prep course), causing a 19% drop in the number of students who paid for SAT prep resources; and that in every income bracket, more students now prepare for the SAT with Khan Academy than with all commercial test prep courses combined.

This shows greater equality of access across students of all background as compared to commercial test prep. For the first time, there is equality of access to SAT preparation.

The score delivery window for the spring 2016 administrations of the new SAT is longer than in the past. Consistent with work that is done to redesign any standardized test, we needed time to finalize the technical infrastructure of the SAT Suite of Assessments, including the vertical scale, concordance, and the benchmarks. We are committed to delivering accurate scores as quickly as possible, and we will work to reduce score delivery times in the future.

Below is additional information from the College Board:

Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy

  • Following the March 5 SAT administration, our student survey data shows that Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is reaching students across race and ethnicities and income-levels, creating a more level playing field.
  • Our data shows the median household income for users of Official SAT Practice ($75,978) is roughly equal to that of the overall SAT testing population ($74,821).

Among March SAT test takers who practiced: 68% of Asian students, 65% of African-American students, 61% of Hispanic students, and 60% of white students used Official SAT Practice.

Student Reactions to Official SAT Practice (taken from a survey of students who took the June SAT):

I love the partnership between khan academy and the collegeboard, and I especially like the new SAT and how it focused more on actual applications and documents. It made the test feel much more significant when I saw that the texts used were from actual sources and not just made up for the test.

Khan Academy was a tremendous help for me as I logged in to the program every other day to complete my targeted goal setting questions and practice SAT tests, this educational tool has helped me tremendously to improve my knowledge and context of the subject matters of the material on the SAT. I felt 110% more confident today taking the SAT then I did in March.

Student Feedback on the New SAT

Of the students we surveyed after taking the March 2016 exam:

71% of students said the test reflected what they’re learning in school.

By a 6 to 1 margin, students said they preferred the new format of the SAT over the pre-March-2016 version.

75% of students said the Reading Test was the same as or easier than they expected.

80% of students said the vocabulary on the test would be useful to them later in life, compared with 55% in March 2015.

59% of students said the Math section tests the skills and knowledge needed for success in college and career.

Colleges and  the New SAT

  • All colleges in the U.S. accept the SAT. The vast majority of colleges will accept both old and new SAT scores in the coming years.
  • As students and educators transition from the old SAT to the new SAT over the next year, the College Board is working closely with higher education institutions and other educational organizations to ensure a smooth transition from the old SAT to the new SAT.
  • A survey of college admission and enrollment leaders shows that 90 percent of respondents support the changes to the SAT.
  • Higher education institutions will continue to use SAT scores as they have in the past—as one factor in their admission decision-making process.
  • The College Board provided concordance tables between the old and new SAT to ensure that the SAT will continue to provide students with a powerful connection to college. Colleges will use these concordance tables to make fair comparisons between old and new SAT scores.