Opinion

A chance to make high school testing more equitable

High school students taking a test. (Photo: LStockStudio, via Shutterstock)

Twenty-four states will use the SAT and/or ACT this school year for state assessments and accountability.  California students deserve the same opportunity to take these assessments for free at their schools and reap the benefit of increased access to higher education.  A new study on state assessment systems by Lynn Olson of FutureEd at Georgetown University describes the accelerated trend by states to use the ACT or the SAT and the reasons for doing so: nearly all higher education institutions use these exams for admissions decisions; the exams are shorter in length than most state-designated tests; they have brand-name recognition among parents; and students get to take the tests for free.

Most California education policymakers want to extend this opportunity through AB 751, the Pathways to College Act, authored by Assembly Member Patrick O’Donnell.  The state Assembly passed this bill 75-0, and the Senate passed it 38-2.  Now the legislation goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

This measure would give districts the option to administer a college admissions test such as the ACT or SAT during the school day, at no cost to students.

The recently passed charter reform measure, AB 1505, contains new authority for charter schools to use external, valid national assessments to demonstrate improvement in student academic performance. (see the language in the bill at Education Code Section 47607.2(c)). This language was crafted through detailed negotiations between the Governor’s Office and stakeholders.  California school districts are seeking similar authority.

We are privileged to serve as superintendents in California school districts, and we support AB 751.  This measure would give districts the option to administer a college admissions test such as the ACT or SAT during the school day, at no cost to students, in place of the state’s summative assessments in math and English language arts.  In our diverse districts, we see families and students who would not otherwise have the resources to sit for these exams. Too often, these are students from groups most underrepresented in higher education systems.

The Learning Policy Institute recently published a report on Closing the Opportunity Gap that analyzes how positive outlier districts are pursuing equitable access to deeper learning. Those of us working in these outlier districts are honored that the collective efforts of our teachers, students and administrators have been recognized.  A driving force in our work has been to open post-secondary opportunities for students who might be the first in their family to go to college, who may be from underserved and underrepresented groups and may not see themselves as college bound.  We understand the difference that offering a college admissions test can make to students who simply did not see themselves as college material.

Equity and access are key levers to closing the opportunity gap.  Providing all students access to assessments that the large majority of colleges use for admissions decisions nationally is one piece of a comprehensive effort to improve college preparedness.  Our school districts offer additional initiatives, such as robust curriculum to meet state university A-G entrance requirements, broader access to Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment programs in partnership with higher education.

The option that AB 751 offers is not a panacea and is not the single answer to promoting college and post-secondary for more students.  But it is a simple, pragmatic and important step toward closing the opportunity gap.  Let’s give our students this chance.

Editor’s Note: 
Christopher J. Steinhauser, Cindy Marten and Nancy Albarrán serve as superintendents at their respective school districts in Long Beach, San Diego and San Jose.  Superintendent Michael R. McCormick of the Val Verde Unified School District also contributed to this article.


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