California often leads the nation in innovation, including in our public schools. But in the key area of high school testing, several other states have progressed beyond California when it comes to making these assessments more relevant and meaningful to students and their families.
In support of college readiness, states like Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine and Michigan have received the federal government’s blessing to administer the SAT as part of their state-adopted assessment program. More and more states like these are exercising greater local control when it comes to assessing students in grade 11, and importantly, they are doing so while respecting the needs of special education students and English language learners.
California can do the same if our Legislature passes Assembly Bill 1951, authored by teacher and AssemblymanPatrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), who chairs the Assembly Education Committee. The bill would allow school districts to administer an approved alternative assessment such as the SAT or ACT during the school day for free in place of the state’s grade 11 Smarter Balanced test in English and math.
Here in Long Beach, California’s third largest school district and the recipient of national and international accolades for steady gains in student achievement, we already offer the SAT for free during the school day, opening up college opportunities for thousands more students who may not have previously considered themselves to be college material. As we’ve offered the SAT for free, we’ve seen significant increases in the number of students meeting minimum requirements for admission to California State University. In fact, about 1,000 more students meet minimum CSU requirements compared to two years ago, largely because they now have an SAT score. Without an SAT or ACT score, a high schooler generally can’t earn admission to CSU.
At the same time, our graduation rate has increased for the sixth year in a row. More of our students are completing the A-G coursework for admission to both CSU and the University of California. We’ve also seen a big increase in the number of students passing Advanced Placement exams for college credit.
In addition, we’ve found that our students’ performance on the SAT correlates almost identically with their performance on the state’s 11th grade Smarter Balanced assessments in English and math. This correlation holds true for all students, including English learners and special education students. But the “test fatigue” in our high schools is palpable, especially for our 11th graders and their teachers. Our students face final exams and Advanced Placement exams in multiple subjects, along with multiple administrations of the SAT. Just when our high school juniors and their teachers can catch their breath, along comes the Smarter Balanced test.
While Smarter Balanced provides college readiness data informing course placement for California State University schools, the SAT is also used for course placement and is accepted much more broadly by more than 2,400 colleges and universities, including CSU, for admission purposes. That’s why our high school students and parents see far greater value and relevance in the SAT than Smarter Balanced.
AB 1951 contains stringent accountability and reporting measures to ensure statistically reliable results from assessments that are aligned with state academic content standards. The bill also includes strong protections to ensure that special education students and English language learners are provided appropriate accommodations. The College Board is committed to making sure that students with disabilities can take the SAT. Typical accommodations, comparable to those offered by Smarter Balanced, include Braille and large-print exams, extended time, use of a computer for essays, extra breaks and more. English Language Learners taking a state-funded SAT during the school day have access to testing instructions in several native languages along with approved word-to-word bilingual glossaries and dictionaries. The College Board’s website spells out these accommodations clearly.
If more students are able to take a college admissions test at no cost, more under-represented students can be connected directly to scholarships, personalized test practice tools and college application fee waivers — removing their historic barriers to higher education.
AB 1951 is supported by 38 school districts and other organizations statewide, including the California School Boards Association, the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators, and the California Federation of Teachers.
We owe our students, especially our under-represented populations, these greater opportunities to prepare for success in college and in life. Here in Long Beach, we have seen first-hand what amazing things our students can do, if only we give them the chance.
Christopher Lund is Assistant Superintendent of Research, Planning, Evaluation and School Improvement at the Long Beach Unified School District.