Standards

College Board Ventures Into Middle School Territory

By David J. Hoff — May 30, 2001 3 min read
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With its role in a new math program for middle schools, the College Board is extending its reach below the high school level for the first time.

The move is intended to be only the first step in the New York City-based group’s foray outside its longtime mission of sponsoring testing programs for college admissions and placement.

“We recognize that in order to be able to inspire and connect young people to college, ... we can’t do that if they don’t come from middle school prepared for high school,” said Peter Negroni, the vice president of teaching and learning for the College Board.

Once Achieve and the College Board complete the new program’s package of professional development, classroom tests, and an 8th grade end-of-course exam for mathematics, the College Board will manage the products and sell them to states and schools, though not for profit, according to Robert B. Schwartz, the president of Achieve, the partnership of business leaders and governors that launched the project.

The middle school math program will be similar to the College Board’s existing Advanced Placement program, in which high school students can earn college credit or test out of college courses, and its lesser-known Pacesetter program, which offers standardized high-school-level courses in English, mathematics, and Spanish. (“Achieve to Produce Math Package for the Middle Grades May 30, 2001.)

But Achieve’s Mathematics Achievement Partnership will be different because, for the first time, College Board materials will be in the hands of students and teachers who are several years away from entering postsecondary education.

New Mission

The College Board, a membership group of colleges, school districts, and private K-12 schools, is working to establish a clear identity beyond its historic association with the SAT, the gatekeeping exam for most East and West Coast colleges.

The exam has been subject to criticism in recent decades on the grounds that it is culturally biased against minority test-takers and that it assesses students’ knowledge of skills unrelated to their high schools’ curricula. Most recently, the president of the University of California system announced that he wants to replace the main SAT tests with a form, known as the SAT II, that assesses students’ knowledge of the subject matter that they’ve learned in specific high school courses, until a test tied to the state’s standards is available.(“UC President Pitches Plan To End Use of SAT in Admissions,” Feb. 28, 2001.)

Over the past several years, the College Board has been striving to remake its image and modify its mission, trying to show that it offers more than the SAT. It now bills itself as “the leading organization addressing the school-to-college transition,” according to a press release announcing its partnership with Achieve.

The board also recently created a for-profit arm to run its Web site, where it advertises its programs, offers SAT-preparation software, and sells products such as software designed to help middle schoolers prepare for college.

Mr. Negroni joined the College Board a year ago after 11 years as the schools superintendent in Springfield, Mass. He will lead the board’s expansion below the high school level.

Starting in September, he said, the board will pilot new courses for the Pacesetter program that will eventually result in offering courses to high school freshmen and sophomores for the first time.

The board also is investigating ways to set up a middle school project for English similar to the one for math started by Achieve, Mr. Negroni said. After English, it may tackle middle school science and social studies, he said.

“I see it as very akin to the AP program from the 6th grade on,” he said of the middle-grades initiative. “Our dream is to have this used across the country.”

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A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2001 edition of Education Week as College Board Ventures Into Middle School Territory

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