Education Opinion

Don’t Use SAT and ACT to Satisfy ESSA

By Walt Gardner — April 11, 2016 1 min read

In a misguided attempt to measure what students are learning as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, states are beginning to use the SAT and ACT (“Rejected by Colleges, SAT and ACT Gain High School Acceptance,” The New York Times, Apr. 6). Doing so reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of assessment.

The SAT and ACT are aptitude tests, which are designed to predict the likelihood of success in college. The tests that states have created under different names are achievement tests, which are built to measure mastery of existing material. Although they overlap, they are not interchangeable.

Both testing companies have mounted an aggressive campaign to sell their products to states because they want to get their hands on the assessment market, which is estimated to be $1.7 billion. But responsibility for deciding whether to use the SAT and ACT is still in the hands of state education departments. I find their decision to consider the SAT and ACT indefensible. If public schools expect to continue to exist, they need to gather evidence allowing valid inferences to be drawn about their effectiveness.

The SAT and ACT will only confuse taxpayers because tests have to be designed with the same care as drugs are developed. We know what happens when the wrong drugs are used by doctors, but we haven’t learned that lesson when it comes to tests. That’s why the new trend is disturbing.

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