The SAT: Should Connecticut students opt out, or not?

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Last year, hundreds of 11th-grade students across Connecticut refused to take the mandated SBAC test.  Knowing that they had no control over independent-minded 11th-graders, the governor and State Department of Education sought a waiver from Washington, D.C., for permission to offer what they hoped would be a more palatable test: the SAT. It is a test many high school students would have been taking eventually in order to meet some college admission expectations.

Now, nearly a year later, another group of high school juniors are faced with making the decision to either take the test or opt-out.

As in any highly contentious debate, there is a great deal of misinformation about the new “CT school-day SAT state assessment” that will be rolled out for the first time on March 2, (with a make-up day scheduled for April 27).  Students and parents who have paid close attention to this controversy over this redesigned SAT test are in a quandary because some test-prep and college guidance experts are advising students to hold off as the first time a test is used is bound to be problematic, and the test results will still become part of a student’s SAT test profile.

At the same time, some district educational leaders are threatening that students will not graduate if they don’t take the test, even though such threats are illegal since students and parents have the constitutional right to refuse such government-imposed coercion.

FAQs, though clearly needed, are elusive.

From the CT State Department of Education testing website

⇒ The new SAT is required to meet the federal accountability 95% Test Participation Rate as mandated by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act law.

⇒ There will be three sections to the redesigned SAT: Reading, Writing and Language, and Mathematics, but the “essay portion of the SAT will not be administered as a part of the CT school-day SAT state assessment.”

[The CSDE FAQ sheet indicates that, in Connecticut, only Yale requires the SAT optional essay, while leaving unsaid the fact that many colleges and universities (like Wesleyan, Connecticut College, and others) no longer require any SAT test scores at all because their college admissions’ officers have found such scores as a poor indicator of college success.]

⇒ There will be two types of scores obtained on the CT school-day SAT state assessment:  a “reportable score” that can be sent to colleges and will also fulfill “state accountability purposes.”  And a “nonreportable score” that will not be sent to colleges, but “will be used for state accountability purposes only.”  This nonreportable score is undoubtedly the rigorous Common Core-aligned cut-score of proficiency standard to be determined sometime after the test results are reported.  

[As an aspiring applicant to a “reach” college, I would not want to explain to an Admission Officer that, even though I had obtained respectable scores, I had failed to meet the arbitrary cut-score established after the fact to maintain this fiction of Common Core rigor.] 

Of course, according to the CSDE FAQ sheet, a “student can elect to have their SAT score cancelled immediately after test administration,” so that “colleges will not receive the scores for that administration, however, the student and state will still receive their scores.”  

[Again, I would not want to explain to any Admission Officer why I had cancelled out my SAT score, and once that score is available it will be extremely difficult to protect it from unwanted access.  This “nonreportable score” will surely be reported in your cumulative record, downloaded into the school data-storage system, and shared with whatever agencies are entitled to or can gain access; it is not honest to call it “nonreportable.”]

⇒ Accommodations for special needs students “must be approved through The College Board SSD process, even when the student receives these accommodations in school” through his/her IEP or 504 Plan.

[Certainly sounds discriminatory to youngsters with well-established learning difficulties and others struggling to perform at grade level.]

On The College Board’s college-readiness website, “A Partnership for Student Success” reads like a polished marketing brochure: it promotes a number of claims that are both unproven and lacking in substance.

⇒ “The new SAT measures the skills and knowledge that colleges are looking for today”, even though many of them no longer value or require such test results.

The new SAT measures “what Connecticut students are already learning in the classroom,” {despite claims by teachers that the Common Core Standards have been unevenly incorporated into public school instruction across the state. ]

⇒ The new SAT “has recently been redesigned for greater focus, relevance, and transparency,” [except that this test is so new that its psychometric properties, validity and reliability remain unproven and The College Board maintains proprietary control of the test itself.]

⇒  The new SAT, “when used in combination with high school GPA, SAT scores are shown to be the best predictor of a student’s likelihood for success in college,” [even though recent college admissions’ practices refute this unsubstantiated claim.]

While The College Board and its president, David Coleman, the architect of Common Core, is focused on increasing its dwindling market share, many colleges and universities have moved away from reliance on such test scores in their admission policies.

Now that you know the FAQs, you will have to decide whether it is in your best interest to take this new Connecticut school-day SAT state assessment…

…an assessment that remains in the fire-storm associated with government-mandated test participation rates preventing you from receiving honest feedback from your teachers and building administrators…

…a new CT school-day SAT state assessment that has not been properly field-tested as a valid and reliable test measure.

Any form of a SAT test is universally accepted as a rite of passage for students applying to college.  It is so important in the minds of many students that the pressure to do well leads to untold millions of dollars spent on private tutoring and test prep courses; medications taken to relieve anxiety and stress and/or improve alertness and attention; and therapy.

Are you really willing to believe the political posturing and bureaucratic claims that, in essence, come down to obtaining one data point in order to meet the all-important 95% Test Participation Rate required by the Every Student Succeeds Act and the federal U.S. Department of Education?

You will have to decide. After all, it is your future they are tinkering with.

John Bestor is a recently retired school psychologist who worked for 41 years in a Connecticut public school system.

What do you think?

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