What’s most valuable – standards mastery or college readiness?
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What’s most valuable – standards mastery or college readiness?


More states are considering replacing annual statewide assessments that measure mastery of academic standards like Arizona’s AzMERIT, with those that measure students’ college readiness like the ACT or SAT.

The ACT or SAT is now the statewide assessment for high school students in 14 states, and that number is expected to grow to 22 states this year, according to an article in The Christian Science Monitor.

How could the use of the ACT or SAT affect state accountability systems? Click here to read more.

Education leaders say both types of assessments provide crucial insights into students’ academic knowledge, performance and growth.

“There are many metrics to consider, but the ACT is a college readiness indicator that is valid and reliable,” said Toni Badone, superintendent of Yuma Union High School District. “To my knowledge, AZMerit has not been correlated to college readiness, but it is a measure of a student’s understanding of standards.”

“Since it is a new test, AZMerit scores are not predictive of future academic success in college, whereas ACT scores are,” Badone said. “We rely on ACT scores at this time more than AZMerit to help us assist students to be ready for success in college.”

While the move towards using college readiness exams for state assessments may seem new, it’s not.

It began in 2001 when ACT was awarded statewide contracts in Illinois and Colorado, according to Jed Applerouth, a teacher and educational innovator, in his blog Expert’s Corner.

Use of the ACT and SAT as a statewide assessment for various federal accountability measures is permitted by the recently passed federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

So why are states considering replacing standards assessments that in many cases they helped to develop with the SAT or ACT?

What’s most valuable – standards mastery or college readiness? 10488513-whyusecollegeassessmentsupdated

Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews
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To better motivate students

Principals and district leaders know that students have little motivation to do well on tests that have no bearing on their future.

Students may be more motivated to do well on the ACT or SAT, because their results could lead to college admission and scholarships.

Last week, members of West Virginia Schools superintendent’s commission recommended moving from Smarter Balanced to the ACT as the statewide assessment, noting students don’t take Smarter Balanced seriously and it “doesn’t provide much information on what exactly students are struggling with,” according to a story in the Charleston (W.V.) Gazette Mail.

Before this school year started, Connecticut dropped Smarter Balanced in favor of the SAT, after lawmakers said students, parents and teachers had complained about the large amount of time students spent taking standardized tests, Associated Press story.

Yuma Union High School District students began taking the ACT at no cost to the students in 2010 through the District Choice State Test program, funded by Helios Education Foundation, Badone said.

Currently, 19 Arizona districts take part in Helios’ newly renamed College Knowing and Going Initiative. Read more about this initiative next week in AZEdNews.

“By giving the students the ACT during the day we demonstrate our belief and confidence that every one of our students will be prepared to succeed in college,” Badone said. “The students learn from the experience of taking the test in the spring of their junior year.”

Yuma Union students, like all Arizona students, also are required to take an assessment that measures mastery of the state’s academic standards.

To remove roadblocks

Administering the ACT or SAT to students during the school day has also helped remove roadblocks to some students considering taking the test.

The SAT or ACT is administered at testing centers on weekends and can cost more than $50, which can prevent students who can’t afford it or those without reliable transportation from taking the college readiness exams.

This helps students because “they do not have to figure out how to get to a test location on a Saturday, the first time they take it,” Badone said.

Also, if students wish to improve their score, they can opt to take the ACT again at a later date, Badone said.

“Our students have expressed many times how much they appreciate the opportunity and our teachers emphasize to them well in advance what an advantage it is to take it as a school, for free, on a school day,” Badone said. “It shows we believe in them.”

To improve educational programs that support college readiness

Districts that measure students’ progress on academic standards use assessment results to determine where they can improve instruction and course curriculum.

And districts that offer the ACT during the school day use those results to improve their college and career readiness programs.

“ACT data is valuable to individual students since they receive information to help them prepare further during their senior year,” Badone said.

“The data is useful at an aggregate level as well,” Badone said. “We have watched our students’ data for patterns of improvement in the core areas and for gaps in program.”

Assessment data has helped districts examine their instruction, change curriculum and create a college-going culture.

“We analyze our students’ ACT scores for patterns and opportunities to improve teaching,” Badone said. “We also track data from the National Student Data Clearinghouse to figure out how successful our students are when they graduate.

In another Arizona district, where many high school graduates were placed in remedial English courses at college, the district brought in freshman English instructors from the college to collaborate with the district’s teachers to improve alignment between their courses.

According to Arizona Board of Regents, Yuma Union’s five comprehensive high schools were in the top 13 percent of high schools in the state for college-going rates in 2014.

To increase college enrollment

States that have used the college readiness exams to assess high-school students’ performance have also seen an increase in their college enrollment.

Enrollment at four-year colleges rose two percent in 11 states that required and paid for the ACT, according to a 2014 study by Joshua Hyman at the University of Connecticut.

Low income students benefited the most, with a 6 percent increase in four-year college enrollment, and students who were otherwise unlikely to take the test came in second with a five percent increase in college enrollment, according to the study.

In 2014, 63 percent of Yuma Union High School District graduates went to college in the year following graduation, Badone said. According to Arizona Board of Regents, Yuma Union’s five comprehensive high schools were in the top 13 percent of high schools in the state for college-going rates in 2014.