New bill to replace statewide grade 11 test with SAT or ACT

New bill to replace statewide grade 11 test with SAT or ACT

(Calif.) Next year’s high school juniors would be allowed to take college admissions tests instead of the current statewide assessment under a bill announced Tuesday that aims to close gaps in college enrollment and reduce testing time.

AB 1951, authored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D–Long Beach, would require the state superintendent of public instruction to approve a nationally recognized high school assessment–such as the SAT or ACT–that districts can administer to students instead of the grade 11 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress.

According to O’Donnell, the bill will open doors to higher education for students by allowing school districts to offer college admissions tests during the school day at no cost to students. And it has already received support from a couple of districts including Sacramento City Unified and Long Beach Unified.

Nancy Albarrán, San Jose Unified School District superintendent, said the bill was a win for students and schools.

“AB 1951 will provide a reliable assessment of how our students are doing while providing a benefit to the students themselves,” Albarrán said in a statement. “It’s rare that a standardized assessment actually helps students.  This bill does that.”

Researchers at the University of Connecticut reported last year that when states require all students to take the ACT or SAT and cover the cost of taking such tests, there is a modest boost in the number of low-income students who go on to college. Although the study focused on Michigan schools, nearly half of states currently cover the fee, which ranges from about $35 to $50, for all students to take standardized college entrance exams.

Education officials across the country have said that use of those test scores could motivate some kids to more seriously consider higher education as a viable option.

Indeed, the New York City Department of Education announced earlier this month that 61,800 high school juniors taking the SAT exam–a 51 percent increase from last year–after moving to allow students to take the test free of charge during the school day.

Additionally, a growing number of states are opting to cover the cost of college-prep entrance exams rather than issue standardized tests to assess high school juniors’ academic progress to meet federal accountability requirements, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Delaware, Maine Illinois, Connecticut and Kentucky.

O’Donnell’s bill would add California to the list.

Under AB 1951, the state superintendent would have to approve of a nationally recognized high school assessment and allow schools to administer it free of cost to 11th graders beginning with the 2019–20 school year. The test would be administered in lieu of the Smarter Balanced consortium summative assessment in English language arts and mathematics. The new test will have to be aligned to California’s academic content standards, a condition that officials said will probably be easy accomplished.

And just as with the CAASPP exams, students with exceptional needs who take the approved exam must be provided with appropriate accommodations, or be administered the California Alternate Assessments, and English learners must be provided appropriate accommodations, including access to testing instruction in their primary language, bilingual glossaries and extended testing time.

No new money would be provided under the bill. Instead, districts would continue to receive the amount that they would have had they administered the CAASPP exams, or the actual cost of administering and scoring the alternative assessment–whichever costs less.

According to O’Donnell, the bill will remove obstacles for many students to attend college while also reducing testing time and providing teachers more time to bridge the gap in learning.

This isn’t the first time that O’Donnell has sought to reduce the role of the Smarter Balanced exams in California schools.

Last year he authored a bill that initially would have pulled the state out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium because architects of the test had failed to deliver teachers useable feedback from interim exams.

At the time, the interim tests meant to give teachers early insight into what material students are having trouble comprehending delivered only a single score on a broad block of content that might contain multiple standards. Teachers couldn’t even see actual student responses to specific test questions.

Once adjustments were made to the interim testing system that addressed those concerns, O’Donnell’s bill was watered down to simply require that the assessments be designed to provide timely feedback for teachers. That version was signed by the governor in October of last year.

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