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Assessing the Assessors: Examining What Latest SAT & ACT Testing Programs Can Offer Students & Teachers

Stacey Brill

Stacy Caldwell, a vice president at The College Board, describes the SAT’s redesign to Connecticut’s High School Assessment Working Group. Also pictured is Alan Bernstein, also of The College Board.

Competition between the SAT and the ACT is heating up as a state panel explores whether to select one of the tests as Connecticut’s official high school assessment­ — a new approach that would have to pass muster with the State Board of Education and the federal government as an appropriate accountability mechanism.

Executives from the College Board and the ACT pitched their products to Connecticut’s new High School Assessment Working Group on December 19. CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg represents the Association on the working group.

Just beginning its work, the group has many more questions than answers, as it explores whether the 11th grade Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test should be sacked. There is a concern that high school students are being overtested, since most take the SAT and/or ACT, and apparently wonder what the value is in having to take the SBAC, too.

SBAC is aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the testing program includes summative and interim assessments to inform instruction and improve teaching and learning.

The fact that teachers need those tools and critical data to inform instruction get to the heart of the matter.

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg is representing the Association on the state's High School Assessment Work Group.

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg is representing the Association on the state’s High School Assessment Working Group.

According to Waxenberg, a testing program is only useful if it provides detailed material to students, parents, and teachers that can be used to diagnose students’ strengths and weaknesses. Criterion-referenced tests, like the Connecticut Mastery Test that was phased out, assessed students on many discrete skills and knowledge enabling teachers to focus their instructional efforts.

The SAT, however, historically has been a norm-referenced test that ranks students. “It provides predictive validity” to colleges about how students will perform, according to Stacy Caldwell, a vice president at The College Board.

The SAT has been undergoing an overhaul to align it with the CCSS, partner with Kahn Academy, and make other significant changes. When the new test is administered in spring 2016, Caldwell said she’s confident that the SAT program can meet higher education’s needs and provide teachers and students the comprehensive data they need to improve instruction. See a chart from Education Week showing how the new SAT will be aligned to CCSS.

Dianna Roberge-Wentzell, chief academic officer at the State Department of Education, said that Connecticut educators need the “formative piece to guide teacher decision making in the classroom.”

Blake Curwen, ACT Director of Client Relations, told the working group that his testing program began to be attentive to the CCSS as early as 2010, and he described his program as curriculum based with rich data.  “Our program provides direct links between what students have learned and what they are ready to learn next,” Curwen told the working group. Curwen said the ACT periodically surveys thousands of educators about what students should know and be able to do, and that information is used in test revision and validity examinations.

Since the CCSS are driving curriculum and instruction in Connecticut schools, it’s important that any new high school approach to testing be aligned closely with the CCSS.

The working group has requested more information from both The College Board and ACT. The group is tentatively scheduled to meet again on January 15, 2015.

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