‘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.

From Common Core to College Board

After helping write English Language Arts standards that will be used in 46 Common Core states, David Coleman is going to head College Board, which controls SAT and AP exams. A 42-year-old former McKinsey consultant (and liberal arts-loving Rhodes Scholar), Coleman is The Schoolmaster, writes Dana Goldstein as part of The Atlantic‘s excellent education report.

“I’m scared of rewarding bullshit,” Coleman told Goldstein. “I don’t think it’s costless at all.”

By bullshit, Coleman means the sort of watered-down curriculum that has become the norm in many American classrooms. For nearly two centuries, the United States resisted the idea, generally accepted abroad, that all students should share a certain body of knowledge and develop a specific set of skills. The ethos of local control is so ingrained in the American school system—and rifts over culture-war land mines such as teaching evolutionary theory are so deep—that even when the country began to slip in international academic rankings, in the 1980s, Congress could not agree on national curriculum standards.

As a result, states and school districts were largely left to their own devices, and test-makers were hesitant to ask questions about actual content. Education schools, meanwhile, were exposing several generations of English teachers to the ideas of progressive theorists like Lisa Delpit and Paulo Freire, who argued that the best way to empower children and build literacy skills—especially for students from poor or racially marginalized households—was to assign them books featuring characters similar to themselves, and to encourage them to write freely about their own lives.

Coleman wants students to read challenging materials and learn to answer questions by citing the text, not chatting about their personal experiences. (ACT’s report on building a content-rich curriculum.) His expectations are high. 

But Common Core’s “career ready” is exactly like “college ready,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. A “one size fits all” college-prep curriculum will leave behind many students who might be motivated by a career track, Carnevale argues.

When he takes over at College Board, Coleman plans to change the SAT from an aptitude test to a test of knowledge linked to Common Core Standards. He hopes to level the playing field for diligent, low-income students. (Good luck with that.)

Unready in Texas

To improve college readiness and accelerate remediation, Texas will adopt a statewide college placement exam to be developed by College Board. Currently, more than half of the state’s high school graduates do not test as ready for college.

The state’s higher education agency wants to link 10 percent of undergraduate funding to student success rates, a controversial idea that’s failed to gain traction in the past.

College Board cashing in on ‘college for all’

The college-for all push is enriching College Board, according to the Hechinger Report. A nonprofit, College Board runs the SAT, PSAT and other exams.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have each agreed to pay the College Board anywhere from several hundred thousand dollars to more than $1 million a year to test students in hopes of boosting their college-enrollment numbers, and the College Board is actively promoting its products in other states.

These deals are likely to further increase the College Board’s net revenues, which hit $65.6 million in 2010—the last year for which the figure was available from tax filings—up from $53 million the year before. The test supplier pays a quarter of its employees at least $230,000 a year, while its president, Gaston Caperton, earns more than $1 million annually—almost double what he made in 2005—and has a $125,000 expense account.

“They’re a very profitable nonprofit organization,” said Brad MacGowan, college counselor at Newton North High School in Newton, Mass., a Boston suburb. “They always seem to be coming up with a new product or service to push testing into younger grades or make states give the SAT to every student.”

Ten states and the District of Columbia pay for all students to take the PSAT at no cost. Delaware , Idaho and Maine require all high-school students to take the SAT and pay for the cost.

The number of high school students taking the SAT has risen by 30 percent in a decade. The test costs $49.

2/5 of grads aren’t ready for college or work

Two-fifths of high school graduates are unprepared for college or the workforce, according to a new study. One third of graduates are ready for college and one fourth are ready for job training. The rest, who typically passed  lightweight, faux college-prep classes, make up a “virtual underclass” with a bleak future.

While more Americans are earning college degrees, the U.S. is not on track to meet President Obama’s goal — 60 percent of young adults will earn a degree by 2020 — or College Board’s more modest goal — 55 percent by 2025.

Counselors: Schools fail to prep students

High schools should ensure that all students have access to a quality education that prepares them for college and careers, say counselors in a College Board survey. But most say that’s not the mission of their school system.

Ideally, what should be the mission of the education system? In reality, how well does this fit your view of the mission of the school system in which you work?

Annual survey Chart

Students don’t understand the academic skills they’ll need to achieve their college and career goals, most counselors say.  They’re too busy with administrative tasks to help students navigate the application and financial aid process.

SAT reading scores hit new low

SAT scores are down — “critical reading” hit a new low — because more students are taking the exam, says College Board. In particular, more Hispanic students are in the testing pool. Roughly 27 percent of the 1.65 million test-takers last year had a first language other than English, up from 19 percent just a decade ago.

Students’ aspirations exceed their preparation: Only 43 percent reached the benchmark for college readiness, scoring 1550 on reading, writing and math (out of 2400).  Students with a 1550 have a 65-percent likelihood of earning a B-minus average or better in their first year of college, a strong predictor of graduation, according to College Board’s research.

 

High school was too easy, graduates say

College is great, say recent high school graduates, but they weren’t prepared for college-level math, science and writing.

College Board’s One Year Out (pdf) survey asked members of the class of 2010 how their high school experience prepared them for work and college. In addition to wishing they’d taken harder classes in high school, 47 percent said they should have worked harder, reports College Bound.  Thirty-seven  percent said high school graduation requirements were too easy.

Ninety percent agreed with the statement: “In today’s world, high school is not enough, and nearly everybody needs to complete some kind of education or training after high school.”

Those who went on to college found the courses were more difficult than expected (54 percent), and 24 percent were required to take noncredit remedial or developmental courses. Of those taking remedial programs, 37 percent attended a two-year college and 16 percent did not make it through the first year of college.

To succeed, 44 percent of graduates said they wished they had taken different classes in high school. Among those, 40 percent wished they had taken more math, 37 percent wished they would have taken more classes that prepared them for a specific job, and 33 percent wished they had taken more science courses. Others thought they would have benefited from more practical career readiness and basic preparation for how to engage in a college environment, including how to manage personal finances, the College Board survey reveals.

Curriculum Matters has more on the study.

SAT scores dip, gaps widen

As more students take the SAT, scores dipped for the class of ’09, reports College Board.  Gender, race and income gaps widened. AP reports:

The average SAT score dipped from 502 last year to 501 on the critical reading section of the test. Math scores held steady at 515, and writing fell from 494 to 493.

. . . Forty percent of students in this year’s pool were minorities and more than one-third reported their parents had never attended college. More than a quarter reported English was not their first language at home.

Female students are more likely to take the SAT; males earn slightly higher scores in reading, lower scores in writing and much higher scores in math.

Asian-Americans, the highest scoring group, made significant gains, while whites, blacks and Hispanics declined. The rich got richer:

. . . scores by students reporting their families earned over $200,000 surged 26 points to 1702, an increase that could fuel further criticism the test is too coachable and favors students who can afford expensive test-prep tutoring.

Of course, affluent students might have better teaching and learning opportunities all the way through school. Their parents certainly try hard enough to provide that.