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Guidance on Questions from Institutions Regarding Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) Testing Requirements for State Financial Aid

Guidance on Questions from Institutions Regarding Ability-to-Benefit Testing of New York State Student Financial Aid Award Applicants without U.S. High School Diplomas or its Recognized Equivalent and Section 145-2.15 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.

Acceptable Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) Tests

Question: What are the acceptable ATB tests, as identified by the Board of Regents?

Answer: Response: The Board of Regents identified the following tests, which are the only tests acceptable for ATB/State financial aid purposes:

  • Test: Combined English Language Skills Assessment (CELSA), Forms 1 and 2
    Effective Date: November 1, 2002.
    Note: The CELSA test is approved as provided in 34 CFR 668.153(a)(2) as the additional ATB English language proficiency test that must be taken by students whose native language is not English and who are not fluent in English if the academic program includes an English as a Second Language (ESL) component.
     
  • Test: ACCUPLACER (Reading Comprehension, Sentence Skills, and Arithmetic)
    Effective Date: November 1, 2002.
     
  • Test: Wonderlic Basic Skills Test (WBST) Verbal Forms VS-1 & VS-2 
    Quantitative Forms QS-1 & QS-2. This is a paper and pencil test.
    Effective Date: July 1, 2015
     
  • Test: Wonderlic Basic Skills Test (WBST) Verbal Forms VS-1 & VS-2
    Quantitative Forms QS-1 & QS-2. This is an online version of the tests.
    Effective Date: July 1, 2015
     
  • Test: Spanish Wonderlic Basic Skills Test (Spanish WBST) Verbal Forms VS-1 & VS-2 
    Quantitative Forms QS-1 & QS-2. This is a paper and pencil test
    Effective Date: July 1, 2015
     
  • Test: Spanish Wonderlic Basic Skills Test (Spanish WBST) Verbal Forms VS-1 & VS-2 
    Quantitative Forms QS-1 & QS-2. This is an online version of the tests.
    Effective Date: July 1, 2015
Question: Will the Department consider other ATB tests in the future?

Answer:  The Board of Regents will review its identification of federally approved ATB tests as necessary, based on changes in test content, federal action on approved tests, or other relevant factors.

Admission

Question: May a student without a high school diploma be admitted without taking an ATB test?

Answer: Yes.  Section 145-2.15 applies only to eligibility for State student aid, not to admission to the institution or specific programs.  Standards governing institutional and program admission policies are found in Part 52 of the Commissioner’s Regulations.  They require that the institution admit students “through an orderly process using published criteria which shall be uniformly applied [§52.2(d)(1)].” 

Applicability of Section 145-2.15’s Requirements

Question: Section 145-2.15(e) establishes two sets of criteria for the independent administration of ATB tests. Paragraph (1)(ii) applies to degree-granting institutions and eligible public vocational institutions and paragraph (1)(iii) applies to other eligible nondegree institutions. What types of institutions fall under each paragraph?

Answer: Section 145-2.15(e)(1)(ii) applies to degree-granting institutions and public nondegree institutions in the State that have programs registered pursuant to Part 52 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.  Section 145-2.15(e)(1)(iii) applies to all other nondegree institutions in the State that participate in State student aid programs, including both licensed/registered business schools and non-public nondegree institutions with programs registered pursuant to Part 52.

Approval of ATB Test Passing Scores

Question: What factors will the Board of Regents consider in acting on a request for approval of passing scores on ATB tests?

Answer: The Board’s intent is that institutions set passing scores on ATB tests available for use in New York State in a manner that strongly links their admission and financial aid policies with academic standards.  Consequently, pursuant to Section 145-2.15(d), the Board of Regents will take into account the following factors.

  • That the proposed scores are not lower than the minimum passing score set by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
  • The following elements:
    1. the level of curricula the institution offers, as provided in Section 52.2(c) of the Commissioner’s Regulations;
    2. the admission criteria and procedures the institution utilizes to evaluate the capacity of a student to undertake a course of study and the capacity of the institution to provide instructional and other support services to ensure that the student can complete the course of study, as is required by Section 52.2(d)(2);
    3. evidence that the admission criteria and procedures that the institution utilizes are effective in admitting only persons who have the capacity to undertake a course of study and that the institution provides proper instructional and support services;
    4. the adequacy of the academic support services the institution provides under Section 52.2(f)(2), which shall be evidenced by the institution's record in promoting successful student outcomes; the percentage of first-time students enrolling in noncredit remedial courses; the percentage of first-time students returning at the beginning of the next academic year; the percentage of first-time students earning an associate degree within three years or a baccalaureate degree within six years from the date they entered the institution and such other information as the commissioner shall specify; and
  • evidence that the institution evaluates the success of its academic and other support services in providing instructional and other support services that the student needs to complete the program and that the institution uses the evaluation to improve those services and to modify its admission criteria and procedures.

As an example, an institution that proposes to continue to use the federal minimum score should demonstrate strong instructional and support services for the level of curricula it offers and a record of success by students who do not have U.S. high school diplomas.  Other institutions may wish to use higher passing scores than the federal minimum scores. 

High School Diploma or Equivalent

Question: What constitutes the equivalent of a certificate of graduation from “a school providing secondary education from a state within the United States”?

Answer: Section 3.47(a) of the Rules of the Board of Regents identifies the recognized equivalents of such a certificate for persons beyond compulsory school age:

  • Not applicable;
     
  • having completed (e.g., as a home-schooled student) the substantial equivalent of a four-year high school course, as certified by the superintendent of schools or comparable chief school administrator of the candidate's school district of residence at the time such course was completed; or
     
  • holding a New York State high school equivalency diploma in accordance with the requirements of section 100.7 of the Commissioner’s Regulations, or a local high school equivalency diploma in accordance with the requirements of section 100.8 of the Regulations, or a high school equivalency diploma issued by another state of the United States or an authorized local government of such state, or a high school equivalency diploma based on passing the General Educational Development (GED) test or its successor examination, or a high school equivalency diploma based upon completing requirements that are substantially equivalent to the requirements for a New York State high school equivalency diploma as prescribed in section 100.7 of the Commissioner’s Regulations; or
     
  • having successfully completed 24 semester hours or the equivalent as a recognized candidate for a college-level degree or certificate at a degree-granting institution as defined in clause (e) of this subparagraph, distributed as follows: six semester hours or the equivalent in English language arts, including writing, speaking and reading (literature); three semester hours or the equivalent in mathematics; three semester hours or the equivalent in natural sciences; three semester hours or the equivalent in social sciences; three semester hours or the equivalent in humanities; and six semester hours or the equivalent in any other courses within the registered degree or certificate program, all as verified by the institution conferring the degree; or
     
  • having previously earned and been granted a degree from a degree-granting institution accredited by an accrediting agency approved by the United States Department of Education, pursuant to 20 USC 1099b; or from a postsecondary institution authorized by the Board of Regents to confer degrees; or from a degree-granting institution located in a jurisdiction outside the United States that is approved, authorized, or recognized by the jurisdiction's ministry of education or other governmental agency responsible for higher education; or
     
  • having passed and successfully completed all requirements for the following Regents examinations or the approved alternative assessments for these examinations, pursuant to section 100.2(f) of the Commissioner’s Regulations: the Regents Comprehensive Examination in English, the Regents examination in mathematics, the Regents examination in United States history and government, a Regents examination in science, and the Regents examination in global history and geography. For purposes of this clause, the passing score on the Regents examinations shall be 65 or, where applicable, a score of 55-64 as determined by the school district of residence, pursuant to section 100.5(a)(5)(i) of the Regulations.
Question: Some private secondary schools are located in states that do not authorize, recognize, or approve private schools. Is a certificate of graduation from such a school acceptable for State student aid?

Answer: No, a certificate from a secondary school that is not authorized, recognized, or approved by the state in which it operates may not be accepted for State student aid.  To qualify for State student aid, a student presenting such a certificate needs to achieve a passing score on an approved ATB test.

Information on registered New York non-public schools is available from the Department’s Office of Non-Public School Services: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/nonpub/.

Question: Is accreditation of a private secondary school located in a state that does not authorize, recognize, or approve private schools an acceptable substitute for such state authorization, recognition, or approval?

Answer: No, accreditation is not an acceptable substitute.  To qualify for State student aid, a student presenting a certificate from such a school needs to achieve a passing score on an approved ATB test.

Question: Is a certificate of graduation from a foreign secondary school acceptable?

AnswerNo, a certificate from a secondary school located outside the United States may not be accepted for State student aid.  Section 145-2.15(b)(3) defines schools in “a state within the United States” to include “a State of the Union, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, the United States Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau.”  Applicants for State student aid presenting a certificate of graduation from a secondary school located anywhere else in the world must achieve a passing score on an ATB test to qualify for aid.  

Test Administration

Question: May a current student of the institution proctor ATB tests used for State student aid purposes?

Answer: No, Sections 145-2.15(e)(1)(ii)(i) and 145-2.15(e)(1)(iii)(d) preclude a student of the institution from administering ATB tests used for State student aid purposes.  That includes proctoring the tests.  In addition, at a degree-granting or public vocational institution, Section145-2.15(e)(1)(ii)(d) requires that proctoring be conducted by “professional employees who have been trained in test administration and federal guidelines regarding the administration of ability-to-benefit tests and who are not employed through the admissions, student financial aid, or registrar’s offices at the institution.”

Question: May a degree-granting institution or a public vocational institution employs a former student as a test administrator or Proctor?

Answer: Yes.  There is no prohibition against employment by degree-granting institutions or public vocational institutions of alumni or other former students in the administration of ATB tests.

Question: May an institution that is neither a degree-granting institution nor a public vocational institution employs a former student as a test administrator or Proctor?

Answer: No.  Section 145-2.15(e)(1)(iii)(d) precludes a former student of an institution that is neither a degree-granting institution nor a public vocational institution from administering ATB tests it uses for State student aid purposes.  That includes proctoring the tests.

Question: Is a test administrator who is an institutional employee prohibited from enrolling in a course offered by the institution?

Answer: No, such a person would not be considered a student within the scope of the prohibition.  The intent of Sections 145-2.15(e)(1)(ii)(i) and 145-2.15(e)(1)(iii)(d) is to prohibit the use of an institution’s students in the administration of ATB tests both to guard against the possibility of improper pressure brought on a student to compromise test administration and to assure that tests are administered by “professional employees who have been trained in test administration and Federal guidelines regarding the administration of ability-to-benefit tests [§145-2.15(b)(1)(ii)(d)].”

Question: May a degree-granting or public vocational institution employ a member of its governing board (e.g., a member of the board of trustees), or a former member, to proctor an ATB test?

Answer: No.  Section 145-2.15(e)(1)(ii)(h) prohibits the use of “a current or former member of the board of directors” as a test administrator; this applies whether the governing board is a board of trustees rather than a board of directors.  The prohibition extends to the employment of proctors.

Question: Who may verify scores on ATB tests used for State student financial aid?

Answer: At a degree-granting or public vocational institution, pursuant to Section 145-2.15(e)(1)(ii)(e), scores must be verified by more than one employee of the institution.  (For computerized tests, they must review the results to assure that all test sections have scores and that the scores are within ranges deemed appropriate by the publisher or the institution.)  Neither employee may be employed through or carry out the functions of the admissions, student financial aid, or registrar’s offices and neither may be a current student of the institution.  There are no other limitations.

Question: Is there a minimum period that must elapse before retesting an applicant for State student aid who did not achieve a passing score?
Answer: New York State has not established a uniform minimum time period before retesting.  Institutions need to adhere to the rules for re-testing established by the publisher of the test.
Question: To receive State student aid, must a student be tested before the beginning of the student’s first academic term?

Answer: No.  Normally, the student must take and pass the test during the institution’s drop/add period, or within 30 days after the beginning of the term, whichever is earlier.  The timing of the administration of the ATB test for TAP eligibility is determined by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation, which states in Financial Aid Services Bulletin 2008-002:

Beginning with the summer term of the academic year 2008-09, students must take and pass one of the four approved exams within the institution’s drop/add period or within 30 days of the first day of classes whichever is earlier to be eligible for a State award.

In some exceptional circumstances, a student may be allowed to take and pass an ATB exam within 30 days of the drop/add period or 60 days from the first day of class, whichever is earlier.  This exception may be applied only in those cases where a school is unable to identify or locate the student until later in the term.  All efforts should be made to ensure students are never disadvantaged due to administrative provisions of their schools.

Question: Must an institution that uses a computerized test to collect signatures of tested students in addition to any security measures required by the test publisher?

Answer: Yes.  In its certification of independent administration of Ability-to-Benefit tests submitted annually to the State Education Department, an institution reports that “students are required to provide written verification of identity, such as a photo identification, and to sign in prior to taking the test . . . [§145-2.15(e)(1)(ii)(c)].”  This applies to computerized tests as well as paper-based tests.