Good Common-Core Test Scores Get You Accepted to College in This State

By Catherine Gewertz — September 19, 2017 3 min read
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South Dakota has announced a new policy that will guarantee students automatic admission to state colleges and universities based on their scores on the Smarter Balanced assessment.

Yesterday’s announcement marks the first time a state higher-education system has decided to use Smarter Balanced scores to grant students automatic acceptance if they reach a qualifying score.

In South Dakota, 11th grade students who score at Level 3 or 4 in English and math on the four-level test, or earn an ACT composite score of 18, are guaranteed “general acceptance” to the state’s six public universities and four technical institutes. The first round of those “proactive admissions” letters will go out this month, to high school seniors who took the Smarter Balanced exam last year, according to an announcement by the South Dakota Department of Education.

“General acceptance” means that students might have to meet additional requirements to pursue specific majors.

The Smarter Balanced exam, and PARCC, the other common-core test designed with federal funds for the common core, were designed as measures of college readiness, and as course-placement tools. The idea was to set score cutoffs that would show colleges whether students are ready for credit-bearing, entry-level courses. But now at least one state system is using those cut scores for admission decisions as well.

No information was immediately available on whether the public colleges and universities in any state that uses the PARCC exam use those scores to offer guaranteed admission to students. Arthur Vanderveen, the president of New Meridian, which manages the testing consortium, said such policies are determined state by state, and the consortium is not currently tracking them.

South Dakota’s policy is similar to one in Idaho, where the public colleges and universities use SAT or ACT scores, and students’ grade-point averages, to guarantee general admission. Idaho administers Smarter Balanced to its 10th grade students, but the Idaho higher-education system doesn’t use those scores for admissions, according to Smarter Balanced spokesman Chris Barron.

A 20-year-old law in Texas guarantees students admission to its public colleges and universities if they graduate in the top 10 percent of their class. But it’s gotten sticky, since its flagship campus, the University of Texas-Austin, couldn’t absorb all the qualified students. The state revised the rule in 2009 for UT-Austin so that only 7 percent to 8 percent of each graduating class automatically gets in.

Paul Turman, the vice president for academic affairs for the South Dakota Board of Regents, called the state’s new proactive admissions policy “good for students and good for South Dakota.”

“We are alerting our public high school seniors to the great opportunities available to them, with a goal of encouraging more to attend the exceptional public universities and technical institutes here in our state,” he said in a prepared statement. “This is a way to retain our best students and build a vibrant workforce firmly rooted in South Dakota.”

Students who receive the letters of guaranteed general acceptance must submit an admission application, pay the fee, and send in their high school transcripts by Dec. 1 of their senior year. Their enrollment is contingent on graduating from high school. They can still apply after Dec. 1, but their acceptance isn’t guaranteed.

The four-year public colleges and universities in South Dakota are on a growing list of schools that don’t require the SAT or ACT for admission, according to FairTest, an organization that tracks testing policies.

FairTest spokesman Robert A. Schaeffer commended South Dakota’s decision, saying that even institutions that think some information from standardized exams is useful in admissions “recognize that an in-state student’s high school record includes lots of test results.”

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