Instead of passing a state-developed test in order to graduate, high school students in Maine might soon have to take the newly revamped SAT.
Commissioner of Education Susan A. Gendron has been promoting the idea of replacing the Maine Educational Assessment for juniors with the college-admissions exam.
Ms. Gendron has said she thinks requiring students to take the test would communicate the message that any student can go to college and encourage more students to seek a postsecondary education.
“They have something personal involved, as opposed to just producing good school scores,” Horace “Brud” Maxcy, the assessment director for the state education department, said of taking an admissions test.
Roughly 75 percent of high school juniors in the state already take the SAT. Maine students who took the test in 2004—the last time the old, two-section version was given—scored an average of 509 on the verbal section and a 505 on the mathematics portion, out of a possible 800 on each. The verbal score is a point higher than the national average, while the mathematics score is 15 points lower.
All 10th graders in the state already take the PSAT, the “preliminary” version of the exam, to help prepare them for the SAT and qualify for scholarships.
If Ms. Gendron decides to make the change, this year’s juniors will be the first to take the SAT in April instead of the existing state test. The switch would not require approval by the legislature.
The SAT, just like the Maine assessment, would not be used as a high school exit exam, meaning that a student would not have to earn a certain passing score to graduate, Mr. Maxcy said.
“We have taken a route where we think there should be multiple indicators of evidence,” he said. The current state test in 11th grade “is part of a larger picture” of student performance, he added.
The SAT, which is sponsored by the New York City-based College Board and is the country’s most widely used college-entrance exam, is often criticized as not being a good measure of what students have learned in school.
Groups such as the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, based in Cambridge, Mass., say tests such as the SAT and the other widely taken entrance exam, the ACT, are poor predictors of whether students can do undergraduate work. Critics also contend that the exams are biased against women and minorities.
But Mr. Maxcy said that the SAT “certainly does give you an indication of college readiness.”
He added that he and other officials within the Maine education department have been reviewing the SAT internally to determine how it compares with the state’s “learning standards.” One alignment study has already been completed, and more will probably be conducted, he said.
A few other states are making similar moves. Last year, the Michigan legislature voted to scrap the Michigan Educational Assessment Program for 11th graders and replace it with the Michigan Merit Exam, which will include either the SAT or the ACT.
And 11th graders in Colorado are already required to take the ACT.
In March of this year, students began taking the new, expanded SAT, which includes higher-level math problems, more reading passages, and a new essay section. Average scores for the three-section test, with a possible total score of 2400, will be reported in August 2006.
If Maine decides to implement the testing change, the state will pay for all students to take the SAT at least one time. Students could take it more than once.
A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2005 edition of Education Week as Maine Schools Chief Eyes SAT as Graduation Test