How The New Digital SAT May Impact Students with Learning Differences

The standardized testing landscape has changed dramatically in the past few years with the pandemic-fueled increase in test-optional and even test-blind college admissions. Now the new digital SAT is shaking up the landscape even more, particularly for those students who receive standardized testing accommodations. With many assistive technology options, the new digital SAT will likely benefit many students with learning differences. However, there are a few drawbacks to consider.

Here are some ways the new digital SAT may positively and negatively impact neurodiverse students.

Pros:
  • Shorter test will benefit students with attention challenges such as ADHD
  • Completing the test on the computer will eliminate the difficulty some students have with tracking and alleviate the difficulties with bubbling in a scantron form for those with fine motor control challenges
  • Adaptive questions, which adjust to a student’s ability, may decrease frustration
  • More time per question, so a student’s processing speed is less important
  • Shorter reading passages benefit those with reading challenges
  • Text-to-speech capability, where a student can adjust the speed of delivery vs. relying on a human reader, which can be unpredictable
  • Students can alter the font size and type of font, colors, and background for increased readability
  • Calculator available on screen to help those with math calculation difficulties
  • Math formulas available for students to reference, reducing the need for memorization
  • Highlighter tool can help students mark text or answer options
  • Students can increase amount of white space between lines of text for easier reading
  • No more relying on a live proctor—extra time is much easier to administer because it’s run by the computer, ensuring a consistent, reliable experience
  • Students can isolate one line of text at a time to block out distractions
  • Students can eliminate answers using “strikethrough” to help them narrow answer options
  • Students can zoom in to make text bigger
  • Scratch paper will still be available
  • Access to a clock on the computer that counts down the time and gives a five-minute warning, helping students to manage their time strategically
Possible Cons:
  • The adaptive feature could cause anxiety and distraction for students who try to figure out the level of questions they are being offered
  • Students without computers will be using borrowed computers they may not be familiar with; this could disadvantage students without access to computers or who don’t have a comfort level with the computer they will using for the test

The PSAT in October 2022 will be a good trial run to see the ways in which LD/ND students experience and potentially benefit from the new format. IECs need to be aware that the class of 2025 will be a “test” class, because the scoring will be different from the paper SAT and there will be no correlation tables. IECs can help students prepare for the new format by recommending they take a digital practice test (if available) to familiarize themselves with using their accommodations on the new format.

Overall, the new digital SAT has the potential to greatly improve the testing experience for many students with learning differences.

By Elizabeth Cooper, JD, IECA (MA); Julie Richie, MFA, IECA (TX); and Ann Rossbach, MAT, CEP, IECA (NJ)

A Legacy Obsolete

The families I advise are generally aware of legacy admission practices, but many are less informed regarding its origins and the degree of advantage that it affords them.

As an independent educational consultant who works directly with students who benefit from this policy, I can also vouch for the pressure, and even embarrassment, this adds to an already stressful process. Not unlike the Varsity Blues scandal, students are the ones caught in the crosshairs of outside influences and expectations that can infringe on and even deter the process of finding that perfect-fit college.  

Although increasing college access and diversity is a growing priority for colleges, I have found legacy admissions to be the proverbial elephant in the room. The contradictory policy of legacy status still appears to be considered sacrosanct by many postsecondary institutions. College admissions is subjective, and the institutional priorities that define who is admitted each year often place emphasis on varying qualities that are not associated with academic merit: athletics, ability to pay, etc. However, the notion that an advantage is granted to applicants based on historical ties to the college is completely unjust when considering our country’s painful history of denying postsecondary access to students based on race, gender, and religion. Many colleges have a page on their websites dedicated to a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, yet duplicitously maintain legacy status in the admissions process, giving a clear (non-merit-based) boost to more privileged populations. 

Dartmouth College is the notorious trailblazer of legacy admissions, first introducing the practice in 1922, with other colleges such as Yale following closely behind. The origins of using legacy in admissions are seeded in nativism and antisemitism, created to ensure that certain populations remained excluded. Selective colleges such as Harvard and Princeton have single digit admit rates for the general population, yet admit about a third of legacy status applicants. At Cornell University, legacy admits make up “around 15% of the student body,” almost five times that of the Black student population, or almost equal to that of the entire Black and Latino populations combined. Although colleges have confirmed that legacy admits are often academically qualified, competitive applicants, this practice has given additional privileges to an already affluent population, further compounding inequity in the admissions process and serving as a barrier to achieving higher rates of diversity at college campuses. Furthermore, those who promote the use of legacy admission say it guarantees loyal alumni giving; research shows there is no correlation.   

Amherst College is the most recent institution to end legacy admission preference, citing it as a policy “that inadvertently limits educational opportunity.” The College is also strengthening its financial aid programming in an effort to making an Amherst experience more affordable and accessible to all students. Amherst joins the ranks of colleges like MIT and the California Institute of Technology in creating a holistic approach to admission that does not factor in alumni connections.  

Although legacy status is just one aspect of a college admissions process already rife with advantages for the wealthy and privileged, eliminating it is one solid gesture that all colleges can take to “walk the walk” in their diversity, access, and inclusion efforts. I applaud Amherst College, and its predecessors, for having the courage to make bold changes to embrace a new legacy that embodies the visionary leadership our students and families deserve. Breaking with past practices is something we all must be willing to do to create meaningful change for the diverse populations of students that we are called to serve and advocate for as college access professionals. 

By Yvonne Espinoza, IECA (TX)

Yvonne Espinoza, Yvonne Espinoza College Counseling Services, can be reached at [email protected]

How to Navigate Vaccine and Mask Mandates with Your Students and Families

More than 18 months into the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to impact the landscape of college admissions and how life on campuses looks these days. With mask and vaccine mandates varying across the country—as well as the responses to them from prospective students and their families—many IECA members are looking for suggestions about how to guide parents and students through this tumultuous time. IECA Secretary/Treasurer Ibrahim Firat (TX) offers this perspective and advice.

Stay Informed about a College’s Mandates and its Political Climate

Our office is staying informed about college mandates/requirements by reaching out to current and past students (who are in college now) to hear what they are experiencing; reading the Chronicle of Higher Education’s up-to-date information about colleges’ vaccine mandates and other requirements; and staying in touch with admissions office contacts.

We rely on current/past student feedback, online forums, student-published media (newspaper, radio, podcast etc.), events on campus, and faculty-led research/publications to keep our pulse on the political climate of the college.

Provide Context for Vaccine Mandates

Just as size, location, academics, etc. are factors to decide where to go to college, so are rules/regulations/mandates. Vaccine mandates are not new, however; certain vaccines (i.e. meningitis) have been required by colleges for some time, so we start by reminding that this has been around. Secondly, we remind parents that their college-bound student is (or by the time they go off to college will be) 18+/adult and that it really is their decision to further pursue discussions with the school about mandates. Thirdly, colleges have been providing religious and/or health-related exemptions to mandates and that they can look into these options if necessary/applicable.

Continue to Guide Students and Families According to Best-Fit

There is a fine line between making this issue political and scientific versus completely college admissions or fit related. We do not get into the politics or the science of it as we are NOT the experts in those areas. We do get into the factors of selecting the right-fit college for the individual student/family’s values, and if certain school’s mandates are against those values, then it is simply an X rather than a checkmark next to that factor and we treat it as such. For some people, that X means everything; for some people that X is just another factor that may not fit them (i.e. size of campus/class size) and it may be okay.

College life on campus is shifting from all angles (i.e. living, dining, political climate, frats/sororities, etc.). How can we support families who are trying to find the best-fit college in this dynamic environment? It is a challenge, given that we still cannot visit most universities in person to gather updated info and get a feel for these “vibes.” But we must use the resources available to us to find the college that best matches the student’s educational, social, professional, and personal growth.

Ibrahim Firat, Firat Educational Solutions, LLC, can be reached at [email protected]

We Believe

With a new docudrama on the Varsity Blues Scandal coming out this month on Netflix, as well as potential legislation impacting independent educational consultants (IECs) in several states, the IECA Board recognizes that the general public may not understand what IECA is and what guides our actions. These “We Believe” statements are meant to complement our mission and values and demonstrate IEC’s ongoing commitment to all young people.

1) We believe all students should have access to individualized educational guidance that will help them achieve their goals.

2) We believe independent educational consultants should act respectfully, honestly, compassionately, ethically, and professionally with every student.

3) We believe in the potential of all students regardless of cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, sexual orientation, unique needs, or learning differences.

4) We believe that education should be available and affordable to all families.

5) We believe independent educational consultants are uniquely equipped to guide and support students toward their personal, academic, social, and professional goals.

6) We believe in the power of education to widen opportunities for everyone which will ultimately improve society for all.

 

2020 Rankings Released: What Colleges are Looking for in Applicants

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

For more than 20 years, the Independent Educational Consultants Association has surveyed its member college admission experts to determine what colleges want to see in their applicants, creating a ranking to assist students and their parents in understanding how college applicants are reviewed after submission. Of course, all colleges are different and IECA members can be particularly helpful in understanding those variances.

Among the key 2020 findings:

• While grades are important (#2 in rankings), colleges want to see students challenging themselves, willing to risk perfect GPAs by taking courses that will demonstrate a willingness to take chances, including AP and IB coursework (#1).

• Despite all the talk about “test optional,” scores on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT remain critical (#3)

• Extra-curriculars rose to their highest level ever in the IECA rankings (#4), but colleges look for a long-term, passionate, authentic involvement in one or two activities whether in or out of school. No one is impressed by a long list of tangential clubs. In fact, jumping two spots (to #6) this year: demonstration of leadership within those chosen few activities.

• Essays remain important and are even more important at smaller colleges. But students misunderstand their role. Yes, clear and cogent writing matters, but a great essay is one that tells a story, giving insight into a student’s unique personality. There’s a great saying—no one else should be able to write the essay you submit for admission.

• Coming together are four items that speak to the question: what can YOU do for US? Colleges wonder how the student will contribute to campus life: through unique characteristics or demographics (#7), through special talents (#9), through interest in research (#10), and through demonstrations of a student’s character and values (#11).

• How does a student demonstrate all those? Through the essay, the activities list, and through recommendations, which turned up as #8 on the 2020 rankings.

• Finally, an area students often don’t understand is demonstration of interest and enthusiasm in attending (#12). Are you following the college on Facebook? Did you visit the campus? Seek an interview? Colleges don’t like to extend an offer of admission to a student who will go elsewhere, so when you decide on your first choice, let them know!

The complete survey results can be found here.

Impact of DOJ Agreement on ED & Admission “Poaching”

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

By now, most independent educational consultants (IECs) who work with college bound students have heard that NACAC has reached an agreement with the Department of Justice that eliminates several provisions of the NACAC SPGP. The DOJ argued that some of these rules—those requiring colleges to restrict recruitment efforts—constituted collusion or restrained trade.

Many IECA members have asked for guidance on what they might expect or “what to tell client families” so they are not blind-sided as the rules that colleges have followed for years become relaxed.I think there are two specific bits of information IECs and families should know:

1. Colleges for years have agreed to a universal response date, the date by which students would commit to a college for the fall. Colleges had agreed to rules that prohibited them from trying to “poach” a student who had made a commitment elsewhere. Meaning, colleges would not pursue a student who committed to attend elsewhere, including a prohibition of incentives to change their mind (like a last-minute bump in financial aid).

This rule will end. So, what will happen? We really don’t know. Most organizations, like the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and IECA believe most colleges will, at least initially, voluntarily keep to this rule. Yet we know that any college that fails to achieve enrollment numbers may feel compelled to recruit past a student’s personal decision or beyond the May 1 deadline. Like the proverbial leak in the dam, what we don’t know is if a few colleges pursuing students will result in an all-out effort to recruit already committed students.

We also don’t know yet if colleges will take actions proactively to protect students that commit. For example, I predict that deposits may well increase from the hundreds to a thousand dollars or more, all to make it less likely that students will casually accept offers late in the year with a new pursuer, post-commitment. Likewise, housing deposits and fees could increase. Thus, while some colleges may pursue students who have committed elsewhere, other colleges may work to make a student think hard before making an expensive decision to change their commitment.

Other questions will be left to IECs to consider. If colleges can seek to recruit students who have already deposited, will our advice that students may not double deposit or admonitions that once you accept you must withdraw applications elsewhere, still be valid? Will this lead to a “second season” of admission where students are free to negotiate for their best deal?

2. The second area that the Justice Department secured a change was in recruitment of students applying under a binding “Early Decision.” The rule had been that colleges could not use special incentives to entice students to apply early—and commit—since this was binding. For example, colleges were precluded from using special Early Decision scholarships, or early decision priority for dorms or classes.

These rules, too, are now gone. Colleges may begin to offer incentives to apply under a binding ED, and there are signs that colleges are exploring this. Again, we hope that such incentives don’t become widespread, but I suspect it will happen. We know that Early Decision is a serious commitment, and as such, a decision should be done upon thoughtful and careful planning with an IEC when there is a clear first choice, not merely because an incentive is put on the table.

Once again, IECs will have to ponder the advice they give to students. Such incentives could become one more variable to consider in the process.

Colleagues, I hope this information helps as you think about what could occur. It will be important to follow how the application year develops as your work with students will almost certainly be impacted. What we don’t know is how much or how fast the traditional rules will be become victims to the DOJ rulings. Those attending IECA’s Spring Conference in Connecticut will see agenda items on this issue, including an address on this topic by Jayne Fonash, NACAC president and IEC.

How IECs Help Level the Playing Field in College Admissions

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, Independent Educational Consultants Association

I am pleased that in response to the recent college admission scam, many are looking for solutions that address colleges, athletic programs, the role of privilege, and the role of independent college counselors. Unfortunately, some have suggested a solution that would increase the benefits to the already privileged.

Some opinion pieces have appeared suggesting that no one should be allowed to charge for college admission advice. This attitude favors the wealthy, privileged families that are able to send their children to private schools, often costing in the tens of thousands of dollars and whose college counselors serve small numbers of just 20-30 students. Such a system provides a benefit to those privileged enough to provide such support, while leaving public school students behind. These public schoolers often face impossible ratios of 600 to 900 students per counselor—with that counselor handling crisis intervention, course selection, as well as college advising.

Independent Educational Consultants (IECs) help level the playing field by supporting working- and middle-class students who go to public school, by allowing families of more modest means to gain similar expert help and advice at an hourly rate that is affordable for most. In addition, all members of IECA commit to efforts to serve those from underserved communities.

Those that want to stop the use of all paid assistance (would they refuse paid tutors for students struggling in school, as well?) misunderstand the fundamental role of independent educational consultants. IECs help students explore college opportunities and find the right place for them to succeed academically and socially. IECs don’t get students admitted—they help students demonstrate why they deserve to be admitted at appropriately chosen schools. They help students find colleges they might not have heard of—often out of their region—and they help students put their best foot forward.

 

Securing Students’ Success, not Admission, Makes IECA Unique

By Mark Sklarow, CEO, IECA

Recently, a small group of new independent educational consultants (IECs)—all college-focused—were gathered at an IECA event. Seeing me, they waved me over. Why, they wondered, did we not have the word admission in the organization’s name? I noted that the word admission didn’t appear in our name, our by-laws, our purpose statement, or any tag line at any point in our 40-year history. Jaws dropped.