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.

ACT: 10% of blacks are ready for college

Most black high school graduates aren’t prepared to succeed in college, according to an ACT study.

Only 10 percent of African-Americans met at least three of the ACT’s four College Readiness Benchmarks in 2013, compared to 39 percent of all graduates who took the test.

Sixty-two percent of African-Americans who started college in 2011 made it to their second year, compared to 73 percent of all  ACT-tested 2011 graduates.

Blacks were somewhat less likely to take a college-prep core curriculum in high school. “While 81 percent of Asian-American students and 71 percent of white students had access to a full range of math and sciences courses, only 57 percent of African American students had full access,” observes Ed Week‘s CollegeBound.

SAT goes back to 1600

By 2016, the SAT will drop the required essay, bringing a perfect score back to 1600, simplify vocabulary, cover fewer math topics and more closely resemble what students learn in high school, College Board has announced. Students won’t lose quarter points for wrong answers on multiple-choice questions, a policy designed to penalize random guessing.

Khan Academy will provide free test-prep tutorials online, reports the Washington Post.

“It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming, but the learning students do over years,” said David Coleman, the College Board’s president.

Students will be able to finish the exam in three hours, if they skip the optional essay section, which will take 50 minutes. (To avoid exhaustion, students can take the SAT II composition test on another day.)

The math section will tighten its focus on data analysis, problem solving, algebra and topics leading into advanced math. Calculators, now permitted throughout the math section, will be barred in some portions to help gauge math fluency.

The section now called “critical reading” will be merged with multiple-choice writing questions to form a new section called “evidence-based reading and writing.” Questions known as “sentence completion,” which in part assess vocabulary, will be dropped. Analysis of passages in science, history and social studies will be expanded.

And each version of the test will include a passage from documents crucial to the nation’s founding, or core civic texts from sources such as President Abraham Lincoln or the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The vocabulary will focus on “words that are widely used in college and career.” For example, “synthesis” is used in college, said Coleman.

Carol Jago, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, who serves on a College Board advisory panel, said the test revisions would “reward students who take high school seriously, who are real readers, who write well.” She said she was loath to drop from the exam a word such as “egalitarian,” which appears in one College Board practice test. But she said: “Maybe we can live without ‘phlegmatic.’ ”

The essay never caught on with college admissions officers, reports the New York Times.  Writing quickly, with no time for research or revision, isn’t a college skill.  

The new SAT will be more like the ACT, which has been attracting more students. However, the ACT includes a science section, while the SAT will have only a science reading passage.

“Obscure” words give us powers of description, clarity and insight, writes Andy Smarick on Flypaper. “Words enable us to explain, and an infinitely complex world requires an expansive vocabulary so we can be clear and precise.”

Study: High school grades predict college grades

College students admitted without submitting SAT or ACT scores do just as well as “submitters,” concludes a new study. Applicants with good high school grades will earn good college grades and complete a degree, said William Hiss, the study’s main author.  He is the former dean of admissions at Bates College in Maine, one of the first colleges to go test-optional.  

Defining Promise looks at students admitted to small, private liberal arts schools with test-optional policies and large public universities that admit most students based on high school grades and class rank.  (For the public universities, the study looked at admitted students with below-average test scores.) Also included were a few minority-serving institutions and two art schools.

Submitters had slightly higher high school grades and significantly lower test scores.  Their college grades and graduation rates were very similar to nonsubmitters’ success rates.

While many students outperformed their SAT or ACT scores, high school grades strongly predicted college success, the study found. 

. . .  kids who had low or modest test scores, but good high school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades.

Hiss says it’s probably not so surprising that a pattern of hard work, discipline and curiosity in high school shows up “as highly predictive, in contrast to what they do in three or four hours on a particular Saturday morning in a testing room.”

I can’t see elite colleges and universities going test optional: They have way too many straight-A applicants.

The SAT will be redesigned to “strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills” needed in college, said David Coleman, the new board president, in a letter to College Board members. Some believe the new SAT will look more like the ACT, which is gaining market share.

Coleman, a co-author of Common Core standards, has promised to “move beyond delivering assessments to delivering opportunity for students so they will be better prepared to succeed in college.” Nobody knows what “delivering opportunity” means, writes Alexander Russo.

Core testing: ACT beats PARCC

Following seven other Common Core states, Colorado should withdraw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) “until the state has a chance to publicly review, evaluate, and critique Common Core standards and PARCC,” argues Teacher’s View blogger Michael Mazenko in the Denver Post. If Colorado needs standardized testing and decides its own test isn’t good enough, the state should use ACT’s Aspire, he writes.

PARCC is an unproven standardized test created by a private consortium that has provided very little information or transparency on what their tests will look like.

. . . ACT is a known entity with a proven track record, and ACT’s tests actually mean something to parents, students and, perhaps most important, colleges.

ACT testing is cheaper at $20 per student than PARCC at $30, writes Mazenko.

Colorado requires high school students to take the ACT and uses the scores to rate high schools on college preparation.  Colleges use ACT for admissions. No college plans to rely on PARCC scores.

Common Core conflict “spiked” yesterday at the state Capitol, reports the Denver Post.  “Moms” protested the standardsSen. Vicki Marble promoted her “Colorado Moms’ Bill” to delay new tests for a year pending a review of the standards. Common Core “was pushed onto Colorado with too little debate and no parental input,” said Marble.

Meanwhile, Common Core backers sponsored a panel discussion to persuade legislators to move forward.

Common Core testing has created chaos nationwide, reports the Washington Post. In California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and elsewhere, there are second thoughts.

Test certifies job-ready graduates

ACT’s WorkKeys certifies students are ready for work, reports PBS. Employers support it, but few high school students know it exists.

JOHN TULENKO: From the outside, Hoffer Plastics in Elgin, Illinois, looks about the same as it did when it was founded back in 1953. Inside, it’s a different story.

Bill Hoffer is the CEO.

BILL HOFFER, Hoffer Plastics Corporation: We have got job after job that 20 years ago would be a full-time operator. Now it’s a robot.

JOHN TULENKO: There are fewer workers, but they’re required to do more.

BILL HOFFER: They need to be able to read blueprints. They need to follow procedures, document what they’re doing. And that’s all very important.

Pat Hayes, CEO of Fabric Images, doesn’t know what an A in math means. “Where did you go to school? What level of course? Was it accelerated? Was it a college prep course? I don’t know.”

Both Fabric Images and Hoffer Plastics use WorkKeys to assess job candidates’ math, reading and information locating skills. Using workplace scenarios, the exam measures “how well individuals can decipher charts, graphs and other visual information, convert ratios, measurements, and make calculations across a variety of situations, and effectively comprehend memos, instructions and other authentic workplace documents,” says Tulenko. “There are also tests of visual observation and listening comprehension.”

Recent high school graduate Sarah Rohrsen was accepted at a four-year college, but couldn’t afford it. She took a job at Wendy’s. Nine month later, she applied for a job at Hoffer Plastics, did well on WorkKeys and landed a well-paying full-time job with benefits as an inspector.

Test takers can earn a work force readiness certificate called an NCRC that’s respected by employers. Superintendent Jose Torres wants 75 percent of his students to earn a gold certificate in five years.  

JOHN TULENKO: So we went to Elgin High School, a predominantly low-income school where administrators say half the students go directly into the work force, to see how they were doing.

Raise your hand if you have heard of something called an NCRC certificate? No hands. OK.

It was like this in virtually every classroom we visited, and this was four years after the district adopted the 75 percent goal.

Only 22 percent of the district’s students earn a job readiness certificate.

Career readiness isn’t a priority, say teachers.

LAURIE NEHF, Elgin High School: I’m not told to have them job-ready. I’m told to have them college-ready.

. . . JOHN TULENKO: Last year in math, 60 percent of students missed the mark. A number of teachers here told us it’s not uncommon they find students in their classes who have yet to learn the math taught in middle school. Regardless, these students are placed in algebra and geometry.

LAURIE NEHF: They just shut down. They get very frustrated. We won’t accept meeting kids where they’re at and helping them where they’re at.

I would love to spend all my time working on percentages, fractions, all that stuff with number sense. That number sense skills is what matters in the real world.

Providing alternatives to the traditional high school math is risky for high schools, says Tulenko. The algebra-geometry sequence is what’s tested.

ACT: 9% of first-gen students are college-ready

Only 9 percent of first-generation college students are prepared to pass college-level courses in all subjects, reports ACT. Half didn’t meet the college readiness benchmark in any subject.

California Latinos are graduating from high school and enrolling in college in record numbers, but graduation rates remain low. Most start at community colleges and do not complete a credential or transfer.

ACT: College hopes rise, scores fall

Most students aren’t ready for college, according to the latest ACT college readiness report. The composite score dropped to 20.9 in 2013, the lowest in eight years. That’s probably because more students — including less-capable students — are taking the exam.

Only 26 percent of test-takers in the class of 13 met all four readiness benchmarks in English (grammar, sentence structure, organization, rhetorical skills), reading, science and math; 39 percent met three of the four and nearly one-third did not meet any.

Twelve states are testing more than 90 percent of seniors, including students who don’t plan to go to college. Also, for the first time, disabled students with testing accommodations, such as extended time, were included in the overall reporting numbers.

College-readiness benchmarks were developed by ACT to predict whether a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher or a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical first-year college course. Students this year did best in English, with 64 percent achieving the standard. Forty-four percent met it in both reading and math, and 36 percent hit the benchmark in science.

This year, ACT moved the reading benchmark up 1 point to 22 and science down 1 point to 23 to match expectations for performance at a national sample of colleges.

‘Common Core’ test market gets crowded

The Common Core testing market is getting crowded, reports Education Week.  College Board is aligning four testing programs to the new standards, adding “yet another player to the list of companies seeking to take on new roles in a shifting nationwide assessment landscape.”

In addition to the SAT, College Board will redesign ReadiStep, aimed at 8th and 9th graders, the PSAT, typically taken by 10th and 11th graders, and Accuplacer, used to determine whether incoming college students take remedial or college-level courses.

David Coleman, who took over as the College Board’s president last October , was a chief writer of the common standards in English/language arts.

States could use College Board’s tests to track students’ progress toward college readiness by 2014-15,  Coleman said.

He wants the tests to play other roles, too: as an early-warning system, facilitating interventions for students who are behind; and as door-openers, identifying promising but under-recognized students and connecting them with more-challenging coursework and with supports that will aid them in applying for college.

College Board will be competing with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which are using federal funds to design standards-aligned tests.

ACT also is developing “common-core tests that will span elementary through high school, include not only math and literacy but science, and be ready to use a year earlier than the consortium tests, which are slated for debut in 2015,” notes Ed Week.

Common standards were supposed to allow states to see how their students were doing compared to other states, but if core adopters are split between PARCC, SBAC, ACT, College Board and state exams, comparability will remain elusive.

New SAT aims to help low-income students

By focusing on what’s taught in school, the new SAT will help students who can’t afford test prep, writes Ilana Garon, a Bronx high school teacher.

The ACT has passed the SAT in popularity, notes Garon.

While both the current SAT and the ACT have Reading and Writing sections, the SAT currently focuses on vocabulary and more verbally complex reading passages, while the ACT does away with vocabulary definition questions in favor of questions about punctuation and a longer, more involved focus on writing mechanics. In the Reading section, the ACT features articles in four known categories (as opposed to the random selection offered on the SAT), as well as a Science section, which makes students analyze graphs. The Math section of the ACT more closely aligns with a high school math curriculum, while the SAT features some logic games, which are more similar to LSAT questions, and does not include trigonometry.

Students who are strong in math or visually oriented will do better on the ACT, while “verbal” students “may find the SAT plays to their strengths,” writes Garon.

One of the on-going problems with the current SAT is not that it is “harder” than the ACT (as some would argue) but the fact that, more than its rival, it focuses on material outside of the scope of a high school curriculum. For wealthier students, an SAT tutor becomes a mandatory accessory; for many poor students, this type of service is out of reach, leaving them to take a test that is disconnected from what they’re learning in their regular classes with only sparse opportunities for preparation

College Board plans to inform low-income achievers about scholarships and aid to pay their way to selective colleges. But raising college awareness may be less important than redesigning the test, concludes Garon.

I’m not optimistic that the new SAT will be an equalizer:  Students who go to academically strong schools will have a huge advantage.