Valley Stream North school counselor Janna Brodman, right, with seniors...

Valley Stream North school counselor Janna Brodman, right, with seniors from left; Gunand Thind, 18, and Matthew O’Hara, 17, on Feb. 7. Credit: Danielle Silverman

As participation among high school test-takers wanes on Long Island and nationally, an all-digital SAT will debut next weekend featuring an “adaptive” exam that's an hour shorter, comes with a built-in calculator and no longer includes lengthy reading passages.

Those are among the changes to the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which has been used in the college admissions process for decades though many schools have gone “test-optional” in recent years. Test-optional means students can submit scores for college entrance if they choose.

The SAT, scheduled for Saturday, will be about two hours instead of three. The test is “adaptive,” meaning the exam's difficulty will be adjusted in real time based on how the student performs. The SAT's two sections will be split into two sets of questions, and how a student performs on the first will determine how hard the second group will be.

Students can use their own calculator or one that is included with the digital testing application. The exam, which measures a student's reading, writing and math skills, will be taken on a laptop or tablet.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • High school students across Long Island and the nation will be taking the SAT next weekend. For the first time, the standardized exam will be administered exclusively in a digital format.
  • Participation in the SAT exam has dropped nationwide and across New York. The number of students who submit scores has fallen, too.
  • Some elite universities have announced an end to making these tests optional for admission.

“Many students have anxiety over testing and sitting so long taking the SAT has been very stressful,” said Susan Hance, guidance department chairperson for Sachem High School North and SAT/ACT test coordinator for the district. “I believe the SAT being shorter is going to be beneficial for all students. I think students are going to feel very comfortable taking the SAT on their Chromebooks and they are going to do well.”

Student participation in the SAT and the ACT fell after colleges and universities stopped requiring the scores during the COVID-19 pandemic, which made group testing unsafe. The ACT, which gives students the choice of an all-digital exam or pencil and paper, will be given next month.

A handful of elite schools, such as Yale University and Dartmouth College, recently announced plans to again require standardized scores for admission. Nearly all of Long Island's colleges and universities remain test-optional, but some have specialized programs that are not.

Some LI schools require scores

Some specialized SUNY programs require test scores, including at Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury. Test scores also are required for some programs and admission into the Honors College at Long Island University, officials said.

“The fall 2023 incoming class attained some of the highest SAT and ACT scores in the university’s history,” said Michael Berthel, vice president for student affairs and enrollment at Long Island University. “While it is strongly encouraged for students to take and submit standardized test scores, the university reviews all applicants holistically to determine admission.”

Proponents of test-optional policies said they result in more applicants, academically stronger applicants and encourage diversity. They said high school grades are a good predictor of college success.

At New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, where the test-optional policy has been made permanent, admission officials said they consider an applicant's grade-point average and rigor of coursework.

“We really look at the transcripts. What types of math are they taking? What types of science is the student taking?” said Joseph Posillico, vice president for enrollment management.

More than 2.2 million students nationally took the SAT in 2019 compared with 1.9 million in 2023, according to the College Board, an independent organization based in Manhattan that administers the test. The exam had followed a traditional pencil and paper format for decades.

“Due to most colleges and universities going test-optional for the SAT/ACT, I have seen my test site go from testing at full capacity to a large decline in students registering to take the exams, then on test day many of those students are absent,” Hance said.

Statewide, participation in the exams among students has fallen, and among those who took the exam, about 32% submitted scores for admission in 2023 — down from 70% in 2019, according to a January presentation to the SUNY board of trustees academic affairs committee.

No decision has been made whether to change SUNY's current test-optional policy, officials said.

The first-year retention rate for all students  — including those who are full and part time, as well as associate's and bachelor's candidates — is higher now than in pre-COVID years, according to a study presented to SUNY trustees.

“We are merely showing that by giving more flexibility and making tests optional, it did not produce negative results for the State University of New York. When you were looking at the overall data, did it impact completion? Did it impact performance? The answer is no,” SUNY trustee Stanley S. Litow said.

Disadvantaged students hurt?

Some believe requiring test results discriminates against disadvantaged students whose schools may not offer advanced courses or students who cannot afford private tutoring.

In 2023, 35% of test takers in the state were white, while 25% were Hispanic/Latino and 12% were Black/African American, according to SUNY.

“I just want to see if we are … eliminating meaningful diversity by not letting all of our programs as an institution explore test optional,” SUNY board chair Merryl Tisch said. “I just want to know if diversity in those highly sought after programs is being encouraged, diminished or lying flat.”

At New York Tech in Old Westbury, before the pandemic, about 95% of all applicants submitted test scores, but that number has fallen to 20%, Posillico said.

Before the pandemic, the GPA for first-term students was 3.1. This past fall, it was 3.14, and last year 3.15, Posillico said. “We are still getting the same quality of student,” he said.

Officials also reported an increase among the diversity of its student body, as well as in first-generation students enrolled.

Aaron Nandlal, 20, of Queens, a student at New York Tech, is majoring in electrical and computer engineering. He applied test-optional.

“Personally, I felt like my strengths as a student didn't reflect well in my SAT score,” he said, “because SAT scores and ACT scores or on any standardized test for that matter really comes down to how much prep you put into that exam specifically rather than testing all the accomplishments and all the skill sets you build up from freshman year to senior year as a high school student.”

More than 80% of U.S. four-year colleges and universities will not require scores for fall 2025 admission, according to FairTest, an educational organization. Hofstra University hasn't required exams since 2015. Molloy University in Rockville Centre, St. Joseph's University in Patchogue and Adelphi University in Garden City remain test-optional, officials said.

“We've been able to welcome high-achieving, academically prepared students to Adelphi using other academic indicators such as course load and GPA, without needing to reimplement the barrier of standardized test scores,” said Kristen Capezza, Adelphi University's vice president of enrollment management and university communications.

Scores helpful toward scholarships

Garden City High School guidance counselor Patrick Doyle said students should make sure — even if a school appears to be test-optional — that the specific program a student may want requires scores.

A strong score can help a student with excellent grades stand out, especially when applying to a competitive school, Hance said. “There are also schools using scores for scholarship consideration.”

Advanced Placement exams may soon play a bigger role in the admissions process, Doyle said.

Gunand Thind, 18, a senior at Valley Stream North High School, believes the rigor of her academics — including taking 14 Advanced Placement courses — represent her achievements “better than a standardized test score” could, she said.

Matthew O’Hara, 17, a senior at Valley Stream North, applied to more than 20 schools and didn't submit his scores to those that didn't require it.

“I was happy to apply test-optional,” he said.

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