Since the removal of federal financial aid for students without a high school diploma or the equivalent, ATB testing has become a confusing area for many institutions. Guidelines at the state level and in the regulations of some accrediting bodies have not been updated, resulting in many calls to our support team. Hopefully this article will clear up some of the uncertainty around the use of ATB tests for purposes other than Title IV funding.
Traditional Use – Title IV Funding
In the past, Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) testing was primarily understood to mean basic skills testing that was administered to students who did not have a high school diploma or recognized equivalent and were seeking Title IV Federal student financial aid.
By passing a federally recognized ATB test, these individuals demonstrated their ability to benefit from the training program to which they were applying, and by extension, their ability to repay their federal student loans.
Key requirements in this definition of ATB testing are that the tests are administered by certified test administrators who are independent of the school to which the test taker is applying, and that the tests are scored by the test publisher.
Other Uses – Accreditation, State Funding, Admissions, Licensure
Over time, the use of ATB testing has broadened in some states to evaluate eligibility for state financial aid, entry into training programs, and certain licensure. These uses are independent of the changes introduced by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 which removed ATB testing as a means of securing Title IV federal funding.
An institution that is considering ATB testing for purposes other than securing Title IV federal student financial aid has two options available to them:
The decision of which option applies is something that the institution has to determine based on the guidelines that they are attempting to follow. The language in the respective guidelines will often provide an indication of which option is appropriate.
For example, private postsecondary schools in California are regulated by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE). The BPPE is charged with implementing the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009. According to the Act, students at these institutions must execute an enrollment agreement before starting classes. Additionally, in order for ATB students to execute the enrollment agreement, they must “take and pass an independently administered test from the list of federally approved ATB tests.” Because the regulations use the phrase “take and pass an independently administered test”, it would seem that the BPPE expects ATB testing to be administered in the context of a formal Ability-to-Benefit testing program.
Alternatively, the Arkansas Department of Health requires students of Cosmetology, Manicuring, Electrology, Aesthetics, and Teacher training to demonstrate proof of high school education, however, “results from a test that is approved by the U.S. Department of Education to measure a student’s ability to benefit (an “Ability-To-Benefit (ATB) test”) may be used to determine a student’s equivalency.” In this example, the language refers to the test only, rather than the ATB testing process, so it appears that any approved ATB test can be used, with or without participating in a formal ATB program.
Note, while the language gives an indication of the agency’s position, the final determination of which approach to take must be determined on a case-by-case basis between the institution and the regulatory agency. As a general rule however, the more conservative approach of administering the tests in the context of a formal ATB program is likely to be accepted by any agency.