California Refuses District Request to Use SAT Instead of State Test

By Catherine Gewertz — February 24, 2017 2 min read
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California’s Long Beach school district grabbed an opportunity offered by the Every Student Succeeds Act: It asked the state for permission to use the SAT college-entrance exam instead of the state’s required Smarter Balanced test in high school.

The state said no, becoming the first in the country to reject a new kind of testing flexibility offered under ESSA.

In a letter released this week, the state board rejected Long Beach’s request and said it has to keep using the Smarter Balanced exam in grade 11, according to EdSource.

In turning down the request from its third-largest district, California will probably have a lot of company. As we reported last month, few states so far seem inclined to allow districts to take advantage of ESSA’s invitation to substitute a “nationally recognized” high school test, such as the ACT or SAT, for a state-mandated assessment. (They’re being pretty cautious about diving into the innovative assessment pilot, too.)

Nearly two dozen other districts in California give the SAT to all 11th graders in addition to Smarter Balanced, but Long Beach is the only one so far to ask to swap one for the other, EdSource said.

The College Board and ACT said they knew of no other instance yet in which a state has turned down a request by a district to use one of those exams in high school instead of a state’s own test.

States have long been free to use the SAT or ACT as their high school accountability tests, and a few have been doing so for a long time. The new twist under ESSA was the added flexibility at the district level: the chance to swap out the SAT or ACT for the state’s required assessment. ESSA also put a finer point on the state-level freedom: It invited states to use the college-entrance exam instead of their own tests.

In seeking permission to use only the SAT, Long Beach made an argument that a number of other states have echoed: Parents and students find that test of more value, since it can be used in college admissions. Taking both a state test and a college-entrance exam is unnecessary and duplicative, Long Beach argued. That dynamic is part of what has led a dozen states to substitute the SAT or ACT for other exams for federal accountability reporting.

But California officials said the SAT isn’t sufficiently aligned to the state’s standards to be used to measure their mastery, according to EdSource. (Federal law requires states to measure students’ mastery of academic standards.) EdSource reports that the College Board’s own alignment study showed the SAT’s alignment to California standards is “strong to very strong.”

All states must submit their assessments for federal peer-review, and that process requires states to produce independent alignment studies (studies created by a company other than the one that built the test). The most recent round of peer-review did not include the SAT, since it was redesigned recently. States using the SAT as part of their accountability systems will have to submit it for peer-review this year, when the alignment question will likely be a key one.

For more stories on using the SAT or ACT instead of state high school tests, see:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.