Sunday, January 3, 2016

How SAT Saves Market Share

The College Board, manufacturers and sellers of the SAT "suite" of tests as well as AP materials, has been struggling to regain share of the lucrative college gateway test market.

Not that they're hurting. When the company brought in Gasper Caperton to help solve some cash flow issues, he announced that he didn't want to run just "a testing company." Caperton boosted fees, increased market by (among other things) getting states to punch PSAT tickets for students, and selling student information to colleges. Revenue reports for the non-profit College Board run from "$500 million to $1 billion" The College Board's Form 990 from 2013 shows total revenue of $840,672,990 with a whopping $98,894,865 left over after expenses.

The College Board is a non-profit, which means it doesn't have to share any of that $100 million profit with shareholders or owners. When Caperton left, he was making more than the head of Harvard, more than the head of the American Red Cross. Nineteen other executives were making over $300K. David Coleman, in his first full year of head honchoship after being hired mid-2012, received a full $734,192 in compensation.

Meanwhile, the SAT is battling for market share with ACT. Part of that battle has involved a technique familiar to manufacturers of soft drinks and beer-- create a larger line of products to suck up space in the store and build market loyalty among customers. To that end, the College Board has rolled out a full range of products, allowing students to start taking some version of the SAT as early as eight grade.

There has been a full court press of PR for the New! Improved! SAT, but the College Board has not banked simply on selling the SAT experience one hopeful and terrified high school junior at a time.

One of the selling points of the new test has been its alignment with the Common Core, but that's not a selling point just (or even) for individual test takers. It has allowed the College Board to pitch their test to entire states.

After all-- the federal government still says that states must give a Big Standardized Test at least once to high school students. And the test ought to be aligned to the state standards. And hey-- look at that! David Coleman, architect of the Common Core is now head of the College Board. The SAT should serve as a suitable BS Tests right out of the box!

And so last year, the College Board underbid and overlobbied the ACT to win the contract to be the exit exam for Michigan schools. The state of Connecticut has dumped the SBAC and replaced it with the SAT. Colorado is about to switch over to the SAT for its juniors. New Hampshire is also on the list, along with Delaware. (Idaho and Alaska require students to take one of several choices which include the SAT). About fifteen states require taking the ACT.

Is there some benefit in this mandatory testing? Do students get a special boost on their way out the door? Do states get a big PR edge (you know those kids from Statesylvania-- they're always better at everything because they have to take the SAT)? Is their research indicating that Big Standardized Tests, especially ones manufactured by experienced test manufacturers, are a good predictor of anything other than socio-economc background? Or should we pay attention to the research that shows that high schools grades are the best predictors of college success? Did anyone benefit from the PSAT rollout fiasco this year?

What is the actual benefit to, well-- anybody in making every student take the SAT or ACT?

There's only one benefit that's immediately clear-- the benefit to test manufacturer's bottom line. The SAT is working to claw back market share by selling their test product, in bulk, to folks in state capitols so that taxpayers can go ahead and foot the bill for students who neither want or need to take the test. It's marketing genius, even if it has no actual educational benefit and costs the taxpayers a bundle. And it's a double win for the test manufacturers-- the more students who take the test, the more data the test manufacturers have to sell off to colleges and other interested parties. Ka-ching!

The college of your choice may not care about the SAT. The experts say not to take the SAT, not this year. But in some locations, your state government says you must take the test. Because, reasons. Ka-ching.


  1. My high school is in a low SE urban community, so title I pays for all but $5 for every SAT exam most of our students take. Instead of spending title I funding on smaller classes, we send $87.50 for every kid tested to the "non-profit" College Board. These elite scoundrels have direct access to federal education dollars for their overpriced and useless testing services. They are stealing dollars taxpayers ponied up to help kids. It's more corruption emanating from America's honor-less elites.

  2. Physicist and Einstein biographer Banesh Hoffman on The College Boards in The New York Times, October 24, 1965: Still rings true 50 years later.