College & Workforce Readiness

More States Moving to SAT, ACT for High School Accountability

By Catherine Gewertz — August 07, 2015 2 min read
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You’ve followed the assessment soap opera as dozens of states signed up for PARCC and Smarter Balanced, and then, one by one, about half dropped out. Now a new story line is emerging: States are throwing over PARCC or Smarter Balanced to use the SAT or ACT for their high school accountability tests.

How far this trend will go is an open question at the moment. But yesterday delivered the latest news of its direction, when Connecticut announced that it would use the SAT instead of the Smarter Balanced assessment for its 11th graders.

Connecticut made that announcement because it had just won federal approval to make the switch. The U.S. Department of Education blessed the state’s plan in its latest round of renewals to the waivers that 40-plus states have won from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Connecticut isn’t alone in wanting to toss out the consortium test for a college-admissions exam. As my colleague Alyson Klein reported, New Hampshire is also aiming to switch from Smarter Balanced to the SAT. And Arkansas is dumping the high school PARCC exam in favor of the ACT.

One weird little hitch in the giddyup, though, is that these states—and others that win federal permission to switch tests—will have to prove to the feds that the test is of high quality. This has long been a routine part of states’ assessment burden, since federal law requires them to show, through the peer-review process, that they have rigorous standards and high-quality tests that reflect those standards.

But as we’ve reported, and Alyson noted in her post, peer-review has been in limbo since the department suspended it in December 2012. We keep hearing that final drafts of peer-review criteria are finally being finalized [ahem], but nothing is out yet. That leaves a question mark over how states will demonstrate quality without a set of criteria to judge them against, or panels of experts to judge them.

That uncertainty could prove problematic if states are on a tight timeline to prove quality. New Hampshire, for instance, is supposed to produce that proof by Oct. 7. Arkansas’ deadline is Sept. 25.

Alyson asked the department how states will demonstrate that the ACT and SAT are of high quality without the peer-review process. The department’s response, by email, was that it will do what it’s done for other states in the past two years, including Tennessee and Georgia: When states switch assessments, they will have to submit a plan to the department, but they will also have to go through peer-review.

Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Arkansas are just a few of the states that have moved, or are moving, toward using college-admissions tests for high school accountability. According to the ACT, 11 states use that college-entrance exam for federal accountability purposes. For an exploration of some of the issues involved in that choice, see this story by my colleague Caralee Adams.

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