Monday, January 8, 2018


Idaho Education News recently posted an op-ed by a Coeur d'Alene counselor questioning the wisdom of administering the College Board exam (the SAT) to juniors across the state of Idaho. In his article, entitled "Are College Classes and Entrance Exams Worth the Money?", the counselor also questioned the worth of dual-credit courses for some students.

Here's why we should continue with the SAT as a statewide exam for juniors.

  • The SAT, and the PSAT, its 10th grade counterpart, provide valuable information for students and parents about preparedness levels. And SAT results are almost universally accepted at higher learning institutions as part of the admissions process.
  • The SAT takes significantly less time than the SBAC, the required 10th grade exam in Idaho, because it is a paper-pencil exam. Particularly at the junior and senior high school levels, the computer-administered SBAC is a logistical nightmare, taking weeks out of the daily schedule and compromising preparation efforts for Advanced Placement exams, the results of which have earned Boise District students thousands of college credits. And the school and district scores for the SAT have actually been released in a timely fashion, unlike those from the SBAC.
  • The SBAC and PARCC consortia, the states using the tests created to assess Common Core standards under The Race to the Top legislation that replaced No Child Left Behind, have diminished severely over the past few years:

In an article in Education Next, authors Ashley Jochim and Patrick McGuinn detail the decline of the consortia:

"State participation in the consortia declined just as implementation of the new standards and tests was set to begin. The pace of withdrawals quickened over time, particularly for PARCC, which five or six states left every year between 2013 and 2015 (see Figure 1). As of May 2016, just six states planned to implement the PARCC-designed assessment in the 2016-17 academic year. SBAC also faced attrition but fared better and still retains 14 states that plan to use the full test. (That figure includes Iowa, where a legislative task force has overwhelmingly recommended the SBAC assessment, though as of early 2016 state officials had yet to formally accept the recommendation.) By early 2016, 38 states had left one or both consortia, short-circuiting the state-by-state comparability that the tests were designed to deliver (see Figure 2)."

Oregon has also decided to discontinue administration of the high school SBAC.

Conversely, administration of the statewide junior SAT exam has expanded. The 11th grade statewide SAT exam is now administered in Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island

  • Prominent researchers are now questioning the 2017 SBAC results, which declined in all 14 consortia states in English Language Arts. In an op-ed in Real Clear Politics written by Douglas McRae and Williamson Evers, the authors note:

"Across the country, 14 states used the federally-funded Smarter Balanced tests as part of their statewide K-12 testing programs in spring 2017. But the results for this year have an integrity problem...

...Smarter Balanced is stonewalling efforts to figure out what has occurred. It refuses to acknowledge that the 2017 scores are highly unusual and, instead, claims the scores are just normal year-to-year fluctuations of gain scores. That argument is hogwash. It is totally inconsistent with the actual 2017 consortium-wide gain data."

  • The SAT releases its test each year, and provides an item analysis for the exam, giving educators access to student response patterns and comparisons with school, state and national item data. We detailed the potential uses of SAT data in a post from 2016. Here's the example we used from 2016 and the rationale for using the data to improve instruction:

How does the distribution of student answers help us to improve instruction?

Well, 28% of District juniors answered "D". While we might speculate as to why they chose that answer, the fact is that 55+9 does not equate to √55+√9. Can we improve instruction so that more students understand this principle? Sure. And the item analysis gives us the tools to improve instruction and student performance.

College and university personnel can also use the statewide item analysis to isolate performance on each question and then use performance on a series of questions to determine placement in Math or Language Arts courses.

We sincerely hope that the state will renew the College Board contract for the PSAT and SAT when it comes up for review. In fact, with the decline in the numbers for the SBAC consortia, we ought to be looking at replacing the SBAC with the SAT as the state's Accountability Measure for high schools.