The College Board, the organization that runs the SAT exams, has announced that they will no longer be giving SAT subject exams. That will be a problem for home schooled students who want a way of convincing colleges to admit them, especially for ones who hope to be accepted by an elite school. Home schooled students don't have high school grades or teachers' recommendations; unless they have some extraordinary accomplishment to show, publishing a novel or winning a national chess championship, they largely depend on objective tests to convince schools to accept them.
The replacement suggested by the College Board in its explanation of the change is the AP exam. Home schooled students take AP exams by finding a local school willing to let them do so. Assuming they can do so, there is still a problem. The AP exam, with a score range of of 1-5, is not nearly as good a way for student to prove his ability as an SAT exam with a score range of 200-800. One percent of students got an 800 on the Literature SAT, 9.3% a 5 on the English language and literature AP. 3% got an 800 on the American History SAT, 13% a 5 on the United States History AP. An 800 on either exam is much stronger evidence of a student's knowledge than a 5 on the corresponding AP exam.
How much of a problem is that for a home schooled students hoping to get into a selective school? To answer that we need to know how high a score on the SAT subject exam elite schools expected in the past and what score on an SAT subject exam a 5 on an AP exam corresponds to. The most recent year for which I could find figures on the range of scores that students at elite schools typically got was 2018. According to a report from that year, selective schools expected scores in the upper half of the 700’s. For the Literature SAT, 750 was 91st percentile, for American History, 83rd percentile. So getting a 5 on either AP exam was evidence that you were within the range of what such schools expected but might be near its bottom, hence only weak evidence that the school should accept you.
That might not matter for an applicant who had lots of other ways of proving his ability — but home schooled students mostly don't. To persuade a school to accept them, the evidence they can present has to be very strong. The switch from the SAT subject exams to the AP exams makes that impossible. However able a student is, the highest score he can get is a five.
I don't know if the College Board thought about the difficulties they were created for home schooled students, but if they did, they may have regarded them as a feature rather than a bug, given the widespread assumption that home schooling is a Christian and/or conservative practice.
In addition, the AP exam was never intended to be used for college admission, only for course placement, allowing students with strong backgrounds in a particular area to skip the most-basic classes in that area and start with more-advanced classes.
(I didn't exactly use it this way: I took AP exams in 7 different subjects, and used most of them to completely skip my college course requirements in a particular field; only in Math did I actually start with more-advanced classes.)
I'm pretty sure the general SAT (the "verbal" and "math" sections) was intended to be used for college admission, but I'm not sure what purpose they had in mind for the subject SAT's. Perhaps the College Board felt they were actually serving the same purpose as AP, so there was no point in keeping both. But as you point out, they also have much finer granularity, so eliminating them would be justified only if the error bar was large enough to make that added granularity an illusion. Which, of course, is possible, but I'd be surprised to see the College Board admit it.
What do you learn from someone's SAT Subject Test score that you don't learn from their score on the SAT proper? Haven't they long been basically identical in terms of psychometrics?
The elimination of the essay portion is likely for the better, as I would guess evaluating the essays are where a lot of error is generated. The variability of the avg. grade by different graders, the variability of values, principles, and personal reactions of different graders, and the random irrelevant factors affecting the graders would certainly make the essay portion more noisy as signal of capability than the multiple choice portion.
I agree on the essay, for the sort of reasons you cite. Knowing whether a student can write is useful, however, and doing it by having the student send in an essay, which is the current system, means that the school has no way of knowing if the student wrote the essay himself, with or without help. There are people in the business of helping students write application essays — I discussed that in an old blog post.
My solution is to put the student in a room — in the college if the student visits — with a computer and word processing program, paper and ink, and a short list of alternative topics. Give him an hour and see what he writes. No attempt at standardized grading as with the SAT essays — the essay goes to the college admissions people. So far as I know, no college does that, and I don't know why.
What you learn from the subject test is what the student knows about that subject. The SAT verbal and math tell you nothing about how well the student knows Spanish, or American history, or physics, or ...
At first I thought that it seems like a particularly bad time to do this. I haven't looked up any stats on it, but I wouldn't be surprised if the number of people homeschooling has went up dramatically over the past year+ because of covid.
On further consideration though, it seems unlikely that many high school students switched to homeschooling so we've got years to see if the College Board backtracks on this or if others come up with other solutions...
Fortunately, nowadays there are a wide array of programs/courses from legitimate colleges/universities and partnerships with colleges & high schools that allow any half-way competent homeschooled child in their teens (or even traditionally schooled child) to earn 1 to 2 years worth of college credits online by the time they are 18. If the child is on the precocious side of things, has a good sense of self-discipline, and supportive parents with the means (it's important to note that this is not beyond reach for most middle-class Americans if they truly desire it) they could earn a Bachelor of Arts by the time they are 18 with only a modicum of effort and drive.
I almost envy my son for the educational opportunities he has before him -- it's just unfortunate that it is coupled with increasing turbulent times and a world going insane -- he will definitely need to keep his head down.
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