States May Shift to SAT, ACT, to Measure Achievement

Can college entrance exams assess content mastery?

Image of a pencil on a page from a standardized test
Image of a pencil on a page from a standardized test

(Image: File)

High school testing is on the brink of a profound shift, as states increasingly choose college entrance exams to measure achievement. The new federal education law invites that change, but it comes with some big caution signs and unanswered questions.

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The questions are hanging over a provision of the Every Student Succeeds Act that lets states measure high school achievement with college entrance exams instead of standards-based assessments.

If many states make that change, it would represent an important national shift in the meaning of high school testing, assessment experts say.

That’s because most states’ current tests are based on their academic standards and are built to measure mastery of those standards. Moving to a college entrance exam such as the SAT or ACT, which are designed to predict the likelihood of students’ success in college, would mean that states had chosen instead to measure college readiness.

“It’s a really big shift,” said Wayne Camara, who helped design the SAT and oversaw research at the College Board for two decades before taking a similar post at ACT in 2014. “States need to think about what they want their accountability system to measure and choose the test best suited for that. Ultimately, it’s a judgment. It depends on what you value most.”

Many states offer or require the SAT or ACT statewide as a way to get students thinking about and applying to college. But few use those tests for the accountability reports that are required by federal law.

Seven states have won permission from the U.S. Department of Education to use SAT or ACT for federal accountability. But a spokeswoman for the department said the states still must present evidence, through the peer-review process, that the exams are valid for that purpose. Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire won approval to use the SAT for federal accountability; and Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming got the nod to use the ACT that way.

Read more at Education Week.