SAT, ACT become high school tests

While some colleges are going “test optional” more high schools are requiring the SAT or ACT, reports the New York Times. The rival college-admissions exams are being used to assess high school performance, as required by federal education law. State are dumping the two federally funded Common Core tests, Smarter Balanced and Parcc.

In January, Delaware decided to use the SAT, instead of Smarter, Balanced, “to meet the federal requirement to test high school students,” reports the Times.  A month later, the University of Delaware “announced that it would no longer require in-state students to submit SAT scores, citing research that high school grades better predict college success.”

Montana will use the ACT instead of Smarter Balanced, and Colorado will use the SAT instead of Parcc. At least seven other states plan to replace Common Core-aligned tests with the SAT or ACT, according to the Times.

Some states see requiring a college-admissions test for all students, including those without college plans, as a way to raise aspirations.

For high school students already planning to take the SAT or ACT, the move means one less exam — with no fee. But these tests are supposed to judge college readiness, not high school performance.

Going “test optional” allows colleges to raise the number of applicants, while hiding their drop in standards, writes Gerald Bradshaw, a college-admissions consultant, in the Chicago Tribune.

Students who opt to report their scores tend to have higher scores. “Test optional colleges can admit lower scoring students while at the same time maintaining artificially higher test averages in the US News and World Report rankings.”

New SAT requires more reading

My 16-year-old niece won’t take the new SAT, which debuts in March. Uncertainty about the redesigned SAT — and fears that it will be harder — persuaded her to take the ACT instead. Apparently, she’s not the only one.

Serena Walker took a sample test in preparation for the SAT at Match charter school in Boston in January. Photo: Shiho Fukada, New York Times

Serena Walker took a sample test in preparation for the SAT at Match charter school in Boston in January. Photo: Shiho Fukada, New York Times

The new SAT will demand more sophisticated reading skills — even in math — experts tell the New York Times.

It will be harder for students from non-English-speaking families to excel in math, Lee Weiss, the vice president of precollege programs at Kaplan Test Prep.

SAT dropped the vocabulary section of the test, saying it forced students to learn arcane words. But the new exam features longer reading passages that “contain sophisticated words and thoughts in sometimes ornate diction,” reports the Times.

The math problems include “a lot of unnecessary words,” said Serena Walker, a college-bound junior at Boston’s Match charter school, who was working on a practice quiz.

“An anthropologist studies a woman’s femur that was uncovered in Madagascar,” one question began. She knew a femur was a leg bone, but was not sure about “anthropologist.” She was contemplating “Madagascar” just as she remembered her teacher’s advice to concentrate on the essential, which, she decided, was the algebraic equation that came next, h = 60 + 2.5f, where h stood for height and f stood for the length of the femur.

“Students will need to learn how to wade through all the language to isolate the math,” wrote Jed Applerouth, who runs a national tutoring service, in a blog post. The new math test is 50 percent reading comprehension, he estimated.

The Times asks: How Would You Do on the New SAT? Check it out. I thought the math questions were ridiculously easy. Are they making the reading harder and the math easier?

28% are ready for college

ACT scores 2015.JPG

Only 28 percent of 12th graders who take the ACT are prepared to pass introductory college classes requiring English, reading, math and science skills, according to the new ACT report. Thirty-one percent of test-takers did not meet a benchmark in any subject.

Overall, scores are flat, even as more students are taking the ACT. Some states require students to take the test in hopes of encouraging college aspirations.

Colleges go ‘test-optional’ to fool rankings

When colleges go “test-optional” — applicants need not submit SAT or ACT scores — they claim it’s a way to increase diversity. That’s not the reason, writes Stephen Burd on the Hechinger Report. It’s a way to boost college rankings.

“Test-optional policies overall have not been the catalysts of diversity that many have claimed them to be,” concludes a 2014 University of Georgia study.

When applicants don’t need to submit SAT or ACT scores, more students apply, especially those with poor scores, writes Burd. “For the colleges, more applicants mean more students they can reject, which lowers their acceptance rate and raises the institution’s perceived selectivity.”

Only students with good scores send them in. “Many schools then use only these scores to calculate their average scores,” writes Burd.

Mean SAT scores rise by 26 points on average when a college goes test-optional, concludes the University of Georgia study.

With lower acceptance rates and higher average SAT/ACT scores, test-optional colleges move up in U.S. News rankings of the “best” colleges. That draws more applicants and allows the college to reject even more people.

Low-income kids want college, but few are prepared

Ninety-six percent of low-income ACT takers plan to enroll in college, yet only 11 percent are prepared to pass college classes, concludes an ACT analysis.

Half the students in the lowest income quartile failed to meet any of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math, and science.

Forty-five percent of low-income students met the English benchmark, compared to 64 percent of all students and 26 were ready for college reading, versus 44 percent of all student. Only 23 percent tested as proficient in math and 18 percent in science, roughly half the numbers for all students.

Not surprisingly, low-income students who take a “core or more” curriculum (four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies) do better than peers take a lighter load. While only 25 percent of “core-or-more” students from lower-income families met the benchmark, that compares to 4 percent of less-than-core students.

However, African-American students who complete the recommended college-prep curriculum are much less likely to be prepared for college than other core-or-more students, reports ACT and the United Negro College Fund.

These students may be taking classes with a “college prep” label but watered-down content, lower expectations or less-qualified teachers, said Steve Kappler, a vice president at ACT.

Core-or-more blacks met the ACT college readiness benchmark at a rate of 36 percent in English, 19 percent in reading, 15 percent in math and 11 percent in science.

Nationally, 67 percent of students who took the core or more met the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in English, 47 met it in reading, 46 in math and 41 in science—essentially anywhere from double to triple the rate of African-American students who took the core or more.

“A vast majority of African-American students desire a postsecondary education, but they’re clearly not prepared for it,” said Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF. “We must work together to bridge that gap from aspiration to reality by providing quality education and policies focused on college readiness.”

SAT: 43% are ready for college

Forty-three percent of SAT takers in the class of 2014 are prepared for college, reports College Board. The average SAT score was 1497 out of 2400, down a point from the year before. A combined score of 1550 predicts success in college classes.

Only students aspiring to selective colleges take the SAT.  College readiness rates are even lower — 26 percent — on the ACT, which includes some students required by their states to take the exam.

Family income correlates with SAT scores, notes the Wall Street Journal.

ACT: College readiness gap is wide

Only 26 percent of 2014 graduates who took the ACT are prepared to succeed in college, according to ACT’s college readiness report. Another 13 percent passed three out of four benchmarks in English, reading, math and science. Thirty-one percent didn’t pass a single benchmark and 16 percent passed only one.

That’s no worse than in previous years, despite the growing number of students taking the test.

Nationwide, 57 percent of the class of 2014 took the ACT. While 86 percent want to go to college, but some live in states that require all students to take a college admissions exam. Last year, only 69 percent of ACT test takers actually enrolled in college that fall.

A student who meets a benchmark has a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher, or a 75 chance of a C or higher in first-year college courses, estimates ACT.

While 57 percent of Asian-Americans and 49 percent of whites met three or more benchmarks, that dropped to 23 percent for Latinos and 11 percent for  African-American test-takers.

Overall, 64 percent of test takers tested as college-ready in English, 44 percent in reading, 43 percent in math and 37 percent in science.

Average composite scores ranged from 23.5 for Asians, 22.3 for whites, 18.8 for Latinos and 17 for blacks.

Massachusetts students had the highest composite score, 24.3 points. Hawaii ranked lowest, with an average of 18.2.

ACT: Science, math mandates fail

Requiring higher-level math and science classes doesn’t raise math and science achievement, an ACT study concludes. New graduation requirements affect lower-performing students who tend to do poorly in more advanced classes.

High hopes, long odds

Ninety-five percent of low-income students who take the ACT want to go to college, reports The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students from Low-Income Families. That’s higher than the rate for all students who take the ACT. 

However, low-income students (defined as a family income under $36,000) are less likely to take a strong college-prep curriculum in high school. Only 20 percent meet at least three of the four college readiness benchmarks set by ACT.  Only 59 percent of low-income students who take the ACT go directly from high school to college. That compares to 71 percent of all ACT test-takers.

Colleges are using “predictive analytics” to advise high-risk students, writes Libby Nelson on Vox. The goal is to raise “dismal graduation rates.”

Is flunking a course the sign of a bad semester, or the harbinger of much worse to come? Is a student with a 2.3 GPA going to be fine — “C’s get degrees,” after all — or a future dropout in the making?

But what if the numbers show some students have little chance of success?

Studies show teachers expend more time and attention with students they know will succeed; will professors neglect students data shows are likely to fail? States are under pressure to improve their graduation rates; if they can identify the students least likely to graduate, will it be too tempting to shut them out rather than admit them and help them through?

. . .  The American ethos of college-going rests on “if you can dream it, you can become it.” But when we can pinpoint the students least likely to succeed, what will happen to them?

Many students rely on “magical thinking,” writes Nelson. “From kindergarten through high school graduation, students are steeped in a can-do spirit. Believe in yourself. Reach for the stars. Never give up.”

Students will say an F on a midterm “isn’t a real F,” says Linda McMillin, a provost at Susquehanna University. Professors can use data to persuade them to get real.

“Ninety-eight percent of people who got this grade in this class were not able to change it. Tell me how you’re the exception. Let’s get real here, and let’s think about how we move you into another major that really aligns with your strengths and with your passions and gets you through in four years.”

“This is not a tool to highlight to students that they’re in trouble or can’t make it, says John Nicklow, provost at Southern Illinois University. “It’s an awareness tool to make them aware that now’s the time to buckle down.”

Perhaps middle-school and high school counselors should be armed with predictive analytics. The time to get real and buckle down occurs much earlier.

17 states will require the ACT

By  next year, 17 states will require all 11th graders in public school to take the ACT, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wisconsin have jumped on the bandwagon. ACT scores are used to judge college readiness — and to encourage more students to apply to college.

ACT, which has passed SAT as the most commonly used college admissions test, will provide more information to students on their readiness.

Starting next year,  test results will include a “STEM Score,” representing a student’s performance on the mathematics and science portions of the exam, and an “English Language Arts Score,” which will combine the student’s performance on the English, reading, and writing sections.

A new indicator will show whether a student is likely to be able to understand college-level texts.

Another will assess career readiness — applied math and reading for information — for students who take the ACT and ACT’s WorkKeys tests.  Illinois and Michigan require 11th graders to take both exams.

ACT also is modifying the optional writing test. Essays will be scored on ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use.