Katerina Maylock, with Capitals Educators, teaches a college test preparation class on Jan. 17 at Holton Arms School in Bethesda, Md.(Alex Brandon/ AP)

A number of states are now mandating that all high school juniors take a college admissions test — the SAT or the ACT, depending on the state — as the standardized exam used to meet federal “accountability” requirements. And it appears that more states will follow suit in what could be a big change in the nation’s standardized testing landscape.

Education Week reports that the U.S. Department of Education has given seven states permission to use the ACT or the SAT for federal accountability purposes, with Arkansas, Wisconsin and Wyoming using the former, and Colorado, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire using the latter. (Colorado had been using the ACT — which overtook the SAT as the most popular college admissions test in 2012 — but just changed to the SAT.)

There are several reasons driving the change.

Most states have in the past five years adopted the Common Core State Standards, or standards that are similar, and introduced new standardized exams that are used to evaluate students, teachers and schools. These newly designed Core-aligned standardized tests have been controversial in many places, and their online administration has been difficult. The ACT and the newly designed SAT, which is debuting in March, are said to be aligned to the Core.

Does it make sense to require juniors to take a college admissions test for federal accountability purposes? Proponents say yes, especially for states in which college readiness is an important marker of academic achievement. But critics say that not all high school students are aiming to go to college, and using a test for one purpose when it is designed for another is a bad idea.

Here’s a post from one father in Connecticut who is refusing to allow his daughter to take the SAT for federal accountability purposes. He is Jonathan Pelto, a former Democratic Party member of the Connecticut House of Representatives who now provides commentary on politics and public policy at his blog, “Wait, What?” A longer version of this post appeared on that blog, and I am publishing it with permission.

By Jonathan Pelto

According to a new state mandate, approximately 40,000 Connecticut high school juniors will not be attending their classes on March, 2, 2016. Instead they will be taking another “Common Core-aligned” standardized test for federal accountability purposes – this time the new SAT.

The attempt to force the state’s 11th graders to take the new SAT is not about helping students, improving graduating rates or expanding the number of people who go to college. It is about using the test scores to evaluate students, teachers and schools.  Gov. Dannel Malloy’s “education reform initiative” requires local school district to base 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on the standardized test scores of their students – and now SAT scores will be used.

Here is the background:

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s commissioner of education, Dianna R. Wentzell, signed a contract of $4.3 million over the next three years with the College Board for juniors to take the newly designed SAT for federal accountability purposes. Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education approved the contract.

The initiative started last spring when, in the face of growing opposition to the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, the Connecticut General Assembly and Malloy decided to replace the SBAC for high school juniors with the new SAT. They did this even though nobody in the state — not Malloy, Wentzell or legislators — had ever seen the new SAT, which is being released for the first time next month.

As the College Board website says, students across the United States can take the new SAT for the first time on March 5, 2016, for college admissions purposes. What is known about the new SAT is worrying some college admissions experts.

Last March, Business Insider’s headline read, “America’s top SAT tutor explained why no one should take the SAT in 2016,” with internationally renowned SAT tutor Anthony Greene writing:

I’m recommending that none of my students take the first three rounds of the new SAT (March, May, and June of 2016)… “Why let students be guinea pigs for the College Board’s marketing machine?

In an April 2015 article in Forbes magazine, titled “3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Take the New SAT,” Dan Edmonds, the senior director of research and development at Noodle.com wrote:

The simple fact is that there are numerous good reasons that students shouldn’t take the new SAT next spring — they should opt for the ACT instead. (The primary alternative college entrance example)

And this past fall, Adam Ingersoll of the Compass Group, another SAT tutoring company, warned students not to be guinea pigs for the College Board, adding that the best option for most juniors will be the ACT.

Those warnings were made about the new SAT for college admissions purposes. Here are some reasons that I don’t want my daughter, a junior, to take the SAT in Connecticut for federal accountability purposes, and that other parents might consider:

Reason #1 to opt-out of the March 2, 2016, state-mandated SAT:

Now that the new SAT is supposedly aligned to the Common Core State Standards, students will face many of the same problems that they faced with the Common Core SBAC test. For example, there will be a significant amount of content on the new SAT that most high school students have not even been taught.

The new SAT merges the reading and writing portion of the old SAT into one section, meaning that the math section of the new SAT will make up a larger portion of a student’s overall score (half instead of one-third.) The new SAT puts at a disadvantage those students who haven’t completed Algebra II and gone on to take some trigonometry, statistics and precalculus.

As education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker recently explained in a piece titled, “The lies in the new SAT,”

Our state leaders also misled us by claiming that the new SAT is appropriate as an accountability exam aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements. Connecticut law requires that, for the current graduating class until the class of 2020, students must complete three credits of mathematics. Algebra II is not required nor is trigonometry or precalculus.

Beginning with the class of 2021, the law specifies that students must take Algebra I and geometry, and either Algebra II or probability and statistics. Algebra II is not a requirement and trigonometry and precalculus are not even mentioned.

Yet the new SAT has a significant amount of Algebra II, and has trigonometry and precalculus. Almost half the math SAT is composed of “advanced math” and “additional topics” both of which have these advanced subjects. By contrast, there is very little geometry.

The new SAT is not aligned with Connecticut graduation requirements. Moreover, choosing this test sets students who have not taken Algebra II before 11th grade up for failure, along with their districts.

Reason #2 to opt-out of the March 2, 2016 state-mandated SAT:

Malloy, Wentzell and state legislators said Connecticut’s new SAT testing program would ensure that all 11th graders had an entrance exam score to use when applying to college. Not so. Again, as Wendy Lecker explained:

In December, the State Department of Education (SDE) sent districts a sample letter intended for parents. In it, SDE claimed that “(b) y adopting the SAT, we are eliminating duplicate testing.”

That assertion is false for many Connecticut students and SDE knew that when it wrote this letter. In a separate document sent at the same time but addressed to district leaders, not parents, SDE acknowledged that the vast majority of ELL students taking the SAT with accommodations will be unable to report their scores to colleges, because the College Board does not accept ELL accommodations. Similarly, many students with disabilities using accommodations will not be able to report scores either, as the College Board has more stringent criteria for disability accommodations. For those students, the SAT will only count for state accountability purposes.

The truth is that there will be thousands of Connecticut public school students taking the NEW SAT who will discover that their test score CAN NOT be used with any college application and will only be used to “evaluate” them and their teachers.

Reason #3 to opt-out of the March 2, 2016 state-mandated SAT:

As high school juniors and their parents ramp up their college application activities, they should be aware that an SAT score is no longer needed when applying to many colleges and universities. More and more institutions of higher education are moving away from using the SAT and standardized test scores to determine who to accept.

As the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, reports, more than 850 colleges and universities in the United States “DO NOT USE the SAT Scores for Admitting Substantial Numbers of Students.” FairTest, an organization that monitors to use and overuse of standardized testing , says that academic studies have consistently shown that “Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit” and are not appropriate or correct indicators of how students will actually do in college.

In my daughter’s case, of the dozen or so colleges that she is considering applying to, the majority DO NOT require an SAT test.

For those schools that do require a standardized test score, my daughter will be taking the old version of the SAT on Feb. 20, 2015.  The last date for taking the old version of the SAT was supposed to be on Jan. 23, 2016, but due to a snow storm, the testing was postponed until the end of February.

My daughter will also be taking the ACT, a college examination exam that isn’t in the middle of a tumultuous and controversial restructuring.

She won’t be participating in the SAT test being “mandated” by the state of Connecticut, on March 2, 2016.  If we determine that she should take the new SAT, she can do that later, after initial problems with the new SAT have been identified and resolved.

What we won’t do is serve as pawns for the state of Connecticut’s attempt to collect standardized tests results so that they can unfairly evaluate teachers.  My daughter also won’t be a test subject for the College Board’s attempt to reclaim market share.

Instead, we will do what is best for my daughter’s college aspirations.

 

Reason #4 to opt-out of the March 2, 2016, state-mandated SAT:

Another key issue for students and parents to understand is that for students whose college “wish list” includes schools that do require a college admissions test score, a significant number of schools require or recommend that students complete the “optional” essay that will now be part of the SAT going forward.

But students taking the “mandated” new SAT on March 2 will find that there is no “optional” essay to take. The Malloy administration’s contract with the College Board does not even provide Connecticut students with the opportunity to take the “optional” essay – an “option” that is anything but optional at a number of schools that actually require students to submit standardized test results.

In an October 2015 published report of the colleges and universities that do require that standardized tests scores accompany applications, approximately 34 percent recommend or require that students take the essay portion of the tests.

Many Connecticut high school juniors who do want to take the “optional” SAT essay will learn that they will have to take the SAT yet again, this time paying for both the cost of the NEW SAT and the cost of the “Optional” SAT essay.

***

The Malloy administration says students cannot opt out of the new SAT testing program. Some school administrators are threatening students that they will not be able to graduate if they don’t take the new SAT on March 2, 2016.

But there is no federal or state law, regulation or legal policy that prohibits parents from opting their children out of the  Common Core testing program. Even the chairman of the State Board of Education, a lawyer, has said that Connecticut parents have the fundamental and inalienable right to opt their children out of the state’s testing program.

My daughter will not be taking the new SAT on March 2, 2016, for federal accountability purposes. Other parents can make their own decisions.