States turn to college-prep tests for federal reporting

States turn to college-prep tests for federal reporting

(N.H.) New Hampshire has joined a growing number of states opting to use college-prep entrance exams rather than standardized testing to assess high school juniors’ academic progress and meet federal accountability requirements.

In addition to scaling back the number of tests students must take, officials at the state Department of Education said that use of SAT or ACT scores could also motivate some kids to more seriously consider higher education as a viable option.

“When a student who wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about college takes the assessment and does fairly well on it they may start thinking about furthering their education,” said Heather Gage, director of the Division of Educational Improvement in an interview Monday. “For some, if they never take (the SAT) they may not even consider that opportunity.”

Maine, Wisconsin and Kentucky are among the states currently using either the SAT or ACT to assess students in 11th grade. Nearly half of states cover the costs of the tests for all students – even those who would normally pay a fee of $50 or more to take the college-readiness exams.

Under federal law, schools must administer end-of-year assessments for students in grades three through eight, and once in high school.  In addition to Advanced Placement and other end-of-course assessments, as well as state and federal standardized tests, high school students often take college placement exams such as the SAT or ACT to indicate their preparedness for college-level curriculum.

Now, all juniors in New Hampshire will be required to take the SAT instead of the assessment created by a state consortium known as Smarter Balanced.

In New Hampshire, the education department was prompted to make the switch after hearing from students and teachers the state’s Smarter Balanced exams did little to incentivize students to perform well. A high score on the SAT, however, is looked upon favorably by colleges and holds greater personal significance for students.

Select New Hampshire schools began piloting the Smarter Balanced assessments in spring of 2014 and began rolling out this past year.

The decision to eliminate use of the consortia’s 11th grade test was announced as part of the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver renewal agreement in August.

“We are still measuring to see whether or not they have the skills we want them to have at their grade level, but we want to make sure we aren’t unnecessarily burdening students or schools,” Gage said, noting that discussions will begin next week to ensure that the SAT tests align to state standards.

In Connecticut, where officials also announced a similar decision last month, use of the SAT could help ease the burden on students who many argue are being tested too often. Officials there told The New Canaan Advertiser that cutting back on duplicative testing would help reduce student stress.

Idaho’s high school rating system factors SAT test scores into its yearly growth model. Students are required to take the exam in order to graduate, but there is no minimum cut score.

Schools in Kentucky are required to give the ACT to students, and scores are used for accountability purposes.

Florida Senators Don Gaetz and John Legg told the Orlando Sentinel late last month that they would like to see students take either the ACT or SAT, which they said were already trusted by parents and educators, instead of the Florida Standards Assessments.

Opponents of using college readiness exams in place of statewide assessments say that the tests are only meant to measure how prepared a student is for college-level work, and that scores should not be used to grade overall teacher or school performance.

...read more