The Ivy Coach Daily

October 21, 2020

Towards a More Perfect NACAC

An Open Letter to the Leadership and Members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling

By Bev Taylor & Brian Taylor

The National Association for College Admission Counseling, an organization that includes college admissions officers, high school counselors, and private college counselors, is an organization that has been vitally important since its founding by creating a community among the professionals charged with helping high schoolers navigate the college admissions process. This sense of community, this forum in which industry professionals could all come together to ask questions, share ideas, and learn from one another, is in fact why many members join NACAC in the first place. For nearly two decades, Ivy Coach — its leaders and/or as an organization — have been dues-paying members of NACAC. With that spirit of collaboration in mind, it should now be considered whether NACAC members are currently maximizing the potential benefit of coming together to share ideas and improve our industry as a whole.

About twenty years ago, Bev Taylor, then a high school counselor at a Long Island public school who had also been working as a private college counselor on the side for ten years at the time, posted a question on NACAC’s listserv, asking if ACT had any plans to stop using the word “cents” on its admissions test. One of her international students didn’t know the meaning of the word. For those standardized testing history buffs, words such as “club” were previously removed from standardized exams since — depending on one’s background — “club” could mean golf club to some and nightclub to others. Within minutes of posting her query, Bev was insulted on the listserv and told that because she gets paid to advise students as they navigate the college admissions process, she shouldn’t be asking such questions. Bev has not engaged in the forum since.

This week, an individual who has made a venerable career of attempting to oust standardized testing from the college admissions process — a cause Ivy Coach wholeheartedly supports — disseminated a quote from The Daily Pennsylvanian, the University of Pennsylvania’s newspaper. In the quote, Brian Taylor of Ivy Coach suggests that test-optional policies are questionable because, all else being equal, an applicant with great test scores has an advantage over a student who doesn’t submit test scores at all. He also contended that in spite of colleges professing to be test-optional, if they truly intended to disregard test scores, they’d ban the submission of such scores in the first place.

Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology banned the submission of SAT Subject Test scores this year — proving that it’s entirely possible. These schools are telling it like it is. They don’t profess not to care about SAT Subject Tests. They demonstrate it. So many universities that transitioned to test-optional this year, unfortunately, can’t say the same. Georgetown University is a case in point. As Sarah Weber writes for The Georgetown Voice, “While Georgetown still encourages students to submit test scores as part of their application, the admissions process will not penalize students who do not submit SAT or ACT scores…Georgetown will allow AP test scores to cover the previously optional, although highly recommended, submission of SAT subject test scores. As with SAT and ACT scores, applicants are asked to submit scores from any SAT subject test scores they took prior to the pandemic, though it is not required.”

It’s easy to surmise that Georgetown will not give equal weight to — all else being equal — a student with a perfect SAT score when he or she is up against a student who doesn’t submit a score. But Georgetown should not be singled out because many of these schools with “test-optional” policies are potentially sugarcoating the truth. Columbia University’s “test-optional” policy reads: “If students have completed testing and can submit SAT or ACT results, we encourage them to do so as we believe this information can be a valuable addition in our review process.” Note how students are encouraged to submit scores if they can.

The initial listserv blast regarding Brian’s quotes didn’t acknowledge the existence of any new policies banning test scores nor the existence of any official statements confirming that scores will still have an impact at test-optional institutions. The blast also didn’t acknowledge any other likely flaws with test-optional policies. In The Daily Pennsylvanian article, Brian encouraged students to try to test in the months before the Early Decision / Early Action and Regular Decision deadlines so they wouldn’t face any potential disadvantage. Certainly, there will be students without test scores who earn admission this year. But when one’s goal is to increase one’s chance of getting into the best university possible — including Ivy League schools — it’s not unreasonable to suggest making an extra effort to obtain these scores.

Indeed College Board and ACT have implemented comprehensive measures in line with CDC guidelines: students are required to wear masks, are socially distanced, undergo wellness checks, and more. As like all native New Yorkers, Ivy Coach’s team has been greatly impacted by Covid-19 and we believe in the most strict of safety measures. If a student is able to safely travel to a testing site which is implementing these official safety measures, Ivy Coach believes it is well worth the trip.

In response to this opinion on the NACAC listserv, instead of supporting their thesis that test-optional policies have merit, personal attacks and insults were launched by various members. Often in these listserv exchanges, it appears that admissions officers and high school counselors look down upon private college counselors, which severely impedes an environment for open conversation and the sharing of ideas. It’s quite a shame.

Moving forward, NACAC and its members should do better, to communicate with more respect, and to foster an environment in which open conversation and policy debate, including the pointing out of potential hypocrisies within the highly selective college admissions process, are welcomed and encouraged. Ivy Coach’s leadership and/or our organization as a whole have been members of NACAC for nearly 20 years, in hopes of learning from others in this community. This mutually beneficial forum is greatly inhibited when attacks are launched in place of respectful and insightful debate. It’s a lost opportunity, not just for Ivy Coach, but for all members of NACAC’s listserv.

This change must begin at the top with NACAC’s leaders. The organization should monitor these online exchanges and implement enforceable guidelines of mutual respect. From the attitudes of superiority on the listserv conversation to college admissions officers being issued one color badge at NACAC conferences, high school counselors another color badge, and private college counselors a third color badge, NACAC has been complicit in this divide. It’s time to support a free flow of information from diverse sources, in the spirit of the great breadth and diversity of NACAC’s membership. College admissions professionals in NACAC’s membership — admissions officers, high school counselors, private college counselors — should all be wearing the same color badges. They should all be permitted to attend the same workshops at NACAC conferences. Together, with our shared experiences and ideas, we can help make the college admissions process better for all.

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