As the SAT college admissions test gets revamped for 2016, more New Jersey students continue to add the alternative ACT test to their college admissions.
More than 24,000 New Jersey high school students took the ACT in 2013, an increase of 37 percent since 2009, according to the ACT 2013 report on the Condition of College and Career Readiness. About 23 percent of all high school graduates in the state took the test.
That is still far below the almost 83,500 New Jersey students who took the SAT that year, but that number was a slight dip from SAT participation in 2010.
Nationally, ACT has surpassed the SAT in student participation. Local school officials said while the SAT still dominates in New Jersey, the growth in ACT participation shows students are considering other options.
The state Department of Education this year included ACT participation in the School Performance Reports, showing what percentage of students took each test. Typically, the majority of students took the SAT, then added the ACT. Few took only the ACT.
School officials said it is a personal decision, but they try to make students aware of all options.
“In most cases, a student who takes the ACT has also taken the SAT and is using the ACT as secondary test score,” said Donna Blair, director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District, which includes Absegami, Oakcrest and Cedar Creek High Schools.
Between 8 percent and 14 percent of students there took the ACT in 2013, according to the School Performance Reports, but almost all of those students also took the SAT.
Locally, Ocean City High School has the most students taking the ACT, at 36 percent, with 80 percent taking the SAT. Only 4 percent took just the ACT, according to School Performance Report data.
Participation in the ACT still varies widely among high schools. No students from Pleasantville High School took the ACT in 2013. At Atlantic City High School, 17 percent of students took the ACT, and at Mainland Regional, 19 percent took the test.
Mainland Regional High School Guidance Director Nathan Lichtenwalner said while most high schools host the SAT exam at least once, far fewer offer the ACT, which may affect participation. He said Mainland became an ACT test site last spring and hopes to be able to add more dates in the future.
“We want to give students as many options as possible,” Lichtenwalner said.
He said the ACT is perceived as more like an achievement test than students are used to, which is why some prefer it. But, he said, student scores have indicated that, in most cases, students perform about the same.
“It’s mostly a matter of preference,” he said.
A review of the ACT website shows eight high schools in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Southern Ocean counties are hosting the ACT at least once during the 2013-14 school year, including Atlantic City, Mainland, Lower Cape May Regional, Ocean City, Wildwood, Cumberland Regional, Millville and Southern Regional.
Traditionally, the SAT was the test preferred on the East and West coasts, and the ACT dominated the middle of the country. While that has changed as colleges began accepting either test, the SAT is ingrained in the local college admission process.
Richard Stockton College’s dean of enrollment management, John Iacovelli, said the college requires only the SAT but like getting both. He said the number of applicants submitting both has grown at least 10 percent each year during the past several years.
“There usually isn’t a lot of difference in the scores,” he said. “But it does give you a more complete picture of a student.”
He said for maybe 10 percent of applicants, there will be enough of a difference in the scores to be noticeable. He said Stockton requires the SAT because it is designed to test cognitive skills students need for college, such as reading comprehension and math skills.
“I’m not really sure one test is better than the other, but we do rely on the SAT a bit more,” he said.
As more students take more tests, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, continues to question the validity of both tests, highlighting reports that show student grades in high school continue to be the best predictor of college success and listing a growing number of colleges that do not require students to submit any standardized test scores.
FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer has criticized use of the test scores for scholarships, noting that minority and low-income college applicants tend to have lower scores and less access to test-prep courses, leaving them with less access to scholarship funds.
But the tests still do matter. The 2012 State of College Admissions report by the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, or NACAC, found that SAT or ACT scores rank third in importance among 16 criteria considered for college admission.
Grades in college-prep-level courses remain the most important factor, with 84 percent of admissions counselors giving grades considerable importance in the NACAC report. The strength of a high school curriculum ranked second in importance, following by the standardized test scores, which were ranked as considerably important by 59 percent of respondents and moderately important by another 30 percent.
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