Colorado Dumps PARCC in Favor of SAT as High School Test

By Catherine Gewertz — December 24, 2015 2 min read
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And they keep on coming: Colorado is the latest state to throw PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests overboard in favor of one of the big college-entrance exams. In this case, it’s the SAT.

The Colorado Department of Education announced yesterday that a special committee gave the nod to the SAT after considering bids from both ACT and the College Board. The five-year contract becomes final after a seven-day waiting period required by procurement rules, and then a final negotiation, according to the department.

Colorado’s decision comes on the heels of Illinois’ announcement that it would switch from the ACT to the SAT after 14 years with the Iowa-based ACT. Michigan switched from the ACT to the SAT earlier this year, as well.

That brings to nine the list of states that give the SAT—or make it available—to all juniors: Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Michigan, Illinois, Idaho, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.

As we’ve reported, the College Board has been pushing hard to snag some of the statewide-contract business that’s been ACT’s stock in trade for many years. And the new Every Student Succeeds Act (the revamped NCLB) opens the door to those companies, welcoming states or districts to use a “nationally recognized high school academic assessment” for federal accountabiltity, as long as states provide evidence that it’s aligned to their standards.

The decision in Colorado has a key distinction: It replaces the PARCC exam at the high school level. The state’s 10th graders will take the PSAT, and 11th graders will take the SAT, instead of the PARCC exam, which Colorado administered in 2014-15. Colorado has been giving the ACT to all juniors for 14 years; The SAT appears now to be taking on a dual role as the state’s college-entrance exam, and as its high school test for state and federal accountability.

The law that overhauled Colorado’s testing system this year and required the new 10th and 11th grade tests, House Bill 15-1323, expressed the state’s intention to get a federal waiver that would allow it to use its 9th grade test to meet those requirements. But in the renewal of its waiver, which was approved by the U.S. Department of Education on Nov. 20, Colorado said that the department had indicated that using 9th grade tests would not be acceptable for accountability, so it would use its 10th grade test and its 11th grade college-entrance exam to meet federal accountability requirements.

Colorado’s announcement said that the committee opted for the PSAT because it’s aligned to the state’s standards, which raises the question of whether the College Board offered independent study demonstrating that alignment. (Assessment experts say that a test that isn’t designed to reflect a state’s standards can’t be used validly to show mastery of those standards unless it’s been proven to align to those expectations.) A College Board spokesman said the company did provide an alignment study for Colorado.

The Colorado committee also apparently liked the way the College Board’s reporting system connects students to resources that can provide them with support or acceleration. The College Board, as we’ve reported, unveiled new online tools to help level the playing field between wealthier students that have access to expensive SAT-prep courses, and students who don’t. Nine days ago, the ACT recently unveiled expanded access to its online supports for low-income students.

Want to know which states are using SAT or ACT as their high school test? See Education Week’s interactive breakdown of states’ 2015-16 testing plans.

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