School & District Management Opinion

Leading Calif. District Wants to Use SAT Instead of State Test

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — December 01, 2016 2 min read
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Chris Steinhauser, the superintendent of the 78,000-student Long Beach Unified School District, doesn’t really have a bone to pick with California’s testing system. He just doesn’t want his 11th graders to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test.

Instead, Steinhauser wants every 11th grader in the district to take the College Board’s SAT exam and to have those results count for state and national accountability purposes. His district plans to ask the State Board of Education for a waiver to allow the test substitution. If they don’t agree, Steinhauser says he is prepared to seek legislation allowing Long Beach and other districts to pilot the alternative testing procedure.

Steinhauser makes a strong case.

“We’re not anti-SBAC in any way,” he said in an interview. Long Beach would continue to use the test in every grade except 11. But there is no SBAC testing from grade 8 to grade 11, and in response Long Beach has started giving the PSAT test to all students starting in grade 8. “With them taking it every year, we actually have continuous data on our kids,” he said.

Eliminating the SBAC in the 11th grade cuts down on testing. Nearly half of the Long Beach students take at least one Advanced Placement exam in the 11th grade: part of the district’s push toward making students “college ready.” 13,000 AP exams were given last year. Taking a test off their schedules is a big help to them, the superintendent said. “They are coming up to me and saying, ‘hey Mr. Steinhauser, why do we have to take this [SBAC] thing?”

The students know that the SAT counts for college, Steinhauser said, and they study for it. Students take the PSAT and SAT tests at school, and the district pays the fees. Results from the Long Beach PSAT tests are fed into a tutorial program run by the Khan Academy.

Each student gets a personalized tutorial program in both language arts and math. “Hundreds of tutoring sessions, for free,” Steinhauser said. Approximately 20,000 students are signed up for the Khan Academy. All have access at school; many do at home. All Long Beach High schools use the Khan Academy for after school tutoring.

Any student can opt out of the SAT, just as they can the SBAC, although few do. A student who needs special accommodations because of disabilities can choose to only take the SBAC.

Public colleges in California accept SBAC results for admission and placement, but the SAT has broader nationwide acceptance. With the rise of the Common Core, it was thought that tests associated with it might eclipse the more traditional SAT and ACT tests, but the opposite may be occurring.

Perhaps as part of the anti-Common Core politics, states have been gravitating toward the SAT and ACT, and Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Delaware have received permission to use them for federal accountability purposes.

The Long Beach superintendent says that SAT and PSAT testing gives the district more data to use in intervention and remediation than the SBAC. And Long Beach data show that students who tested “college ready” on the SAT had similar results on the SBAC. The two tests were giving the district similar summative results.

In response to a query, state school board president Michael Kirst said that he believes that Long Beach would have to get a waiver from the state board to not administer the SBAC test, but it is free to administer any other test it wants. He gave no indication whether he would favor a waiver.

The opinions expressed in On California are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.