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Can Districts Use the SAT or ACT for School Accountability Without State OK?

By Alyson Klein — May 29, 2018 2 min read

Happy Monday, and welcome back to our regular feature answering your Every Student Succeeds Act questions.

This question comes from an anonymous reader who wanted to know: Do districts need state permission to take advantage of new ESSA flexibility to substitute a nationally recognized, college-entrance exam (like the SAT or ACT) instead of the state test for high-school accountability purposes?

The short answer: Yup.

The longer answer: ESSA does indeed allow districts to use a college-entrance test instead of the state test for high school accountability. But the state has to be OK with it. Districts can’t just do this on their own, without the state’s approval.

This guidance, from the U.S. Department of Education, makes that crystal clear: “A state has discretion as to whether it will offer its [local education agencies] this flexibility.”

And at least one district, Long Beach,Calif. has sought its state’s permission to use the SAT instead of the state test and was told no dice.

In general, states have been reluctant to offer districts this flexibility That’s partly because it’s not easy for states to oversee two different testing systems, Julie Woods, a senior policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States, told me back in January.

States have to figure out how to pay for the college entrance exams, design a process for districts to apply for the flexibility, and find a way to compare student scores on the state test to scores on the SAT, ACT, or another test.

That’s “potentially a lot more work than states are currently doing,” Woods said. “States have to decide what the payoff is for them.”

What’s more, the prospect of allowing districts to pick between multiple tests—and potentially change them from year-to-year—drives assessment experts “batty,” said Scott Marion, the executive director of the Center for Assessment, which works with states on testing, because it becomes difficult to compare one district’s results to another’s.

So far, just two states—North Dakota and Oklahoma—are working to move forward with this option. More in this story from my colleague, Catherine Gewertz.

Got an ESSA question? Email it to aklein@epe.org or aujifusa@epe.org. Or tweet at us @PoliticsK12.

Want to see what other readers are wondering? Here are links to past installments of this feature:

Which States Are Eschewing School Grades?

How Can Districts and States Use ESSA to Bolster STEM and Computer Science?

What’s Going on With Testing Audits?

What’s Up With ESSA Block Grant Funding?

Is Testing the Only Way a Student Can Achieve Success Under ESSA?

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here’s some useful information:


Follow us on Twitter at @PoliticsK12.