NACAC Joins National Merit Critics

University Testing

FairTest Examiner, July 2009

Implementing the recommendations of its blue-ribbon Testing Commission, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) has called on the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) and the College Board to stop using PSAT scores as the initial screen for the country’s most prestigious academic awards.

In public letters to the test’s co-sponsors, NACAC charged that eliminating 99% of test-takers from the National Merit Scholarship competition solely on the basis of a multiple-choice, standardized exam was “at odds with best practices in the use of admissions test scores.” To be eligible for scholarships, high school junior must score among the top 1% of test-takers in their home state. The PSAT also serves as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT).

The National Merit program awards more than $35 million annually. For more than two decades FairTest, along with civil rights and other assessment reform allies, has criticized the program for relying on a one-shot test to select Semifinalists ( Due to NMSC’s test score abuse, supported by the College Board, the lion’s share of scholarships has gone to upper income, male students, largely whites and Asians. A FairTest civil rights complaint forced PSAT/NMSQT revisions that significantly narrowed the scholarship gender gap ( But nothing has been done to address the competition’s profound race and class biases.

NACAC is the nation’s leading professional association addressing issues concerning students’ transition from high school to college. NACAC’s Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admissions concluded that “the time has come to end the practice of using ‘cutscores,’ or minimum admission test scores, for merit aid eligibility. The scarcity of aid and the advantages affluent students have in gaining access to preparation for admission tests or pre-tests require us to demand change.” (

Both the College Board and NMSC rebuffed NACAC’s criticism, just as they have ignored long-standing complaints from leading civil rights, feminist and education reform groups. In response, NACAC noted that neither test sponsor directly addressed the concern about using PSAT scores as the sole criterion for financial aid eligibility.

NACAC’s involvement in this issue is not a one-shot affair. David Hawkins’, the association’s director of public policy and research pledged, “We are committed to pursuing this issue, and are in it for the long haul.” NACAC also urged the College Board to audit how admissions and financial aid offices were using test score results to root out additional misuses.