Colorado high school juniors will be required to take the SAT college-entrance exam instead of the ACT starting this spring, a significant change that grew out of a competitive bidding process required by hard-fought testing reform legislation.
The state Department of Education announced Wednesday that a selection committee chose The College Board, makers of the SAT, over the ACT testing company, which has been testing juniors in Colorado since 2001.
High school sophomores, meanwhile, will begin taking the PSAT. Under the compromise testing legislation, sophomores and juniors no longer will take PARCC English and math tests, which debuted last spring and proved especially unpopular with high school students.
“We realize this is a big shift for students and that this decision is coming later in the school year than any of us would like,” Interim Education Commissioner Elliott Asp said in a statement. “We are committed to exploring options for flexibility that make sense for this year’s juniors who need to use this spring’s exam for their college applications.”
Asp did not offer any specifics about what that flexibility might look like.
State officials said the selection committee chose the PSAT in part because it aligns with the high school Common Core English language arts and math standards, which Colorado adopted. The state said the committee also found “the College Board’s reporting system more useful to students, as it connects students to resources and activities designed to help identify next steps for extra support or possible acceleration.”
The SAT and PSAT will be given each spring for the next five years, with the exact dates to be determined, the state said.
The decision to go with the College Board tests will become official at the end of the procurement process, which includes a waiting period of seven business days. The change does not require State Board of Education approval.
The contract will be negotiated after the official award, state officials say. An education department spokeswoman said the competing bids for 10th and 11th grade tests will be subject to public review after the procurement process.
The state wanted one vendor for both tests. By going that route, results on the 10th grade tests can be used to help teachers prepare students for tests the next year.
The SAT tests differ from PARCC and, notably, will take less time. For example, sophomores spent more than 11 hours on PARCC tests last spring, while the PSAT clocks in at just under three hours. The PARCC tests have been shortened somewhat for this spring.
PARCC tests include only language arts and math. The PSAT and SAT tests cover reading, writing, math, science and social studies and are meant to measure college and workforce readiness.
Since 2001, every Colorado junior has been required to take the ACT. About 55,000 students took the test last spring in the state’s public schools. The SAT has a much a lower profile in Colorado. About 6,500 students who graduated last spring took the test.
Bruce Messinger, superintendent of the Boulder Valley School District, said he was surprised by the selection. A number of superintendents pressed for sticking with the ACT, which students have traditionally valued and provide districts a common measurement over time, he said.
“With all the change that’s gone on with the PARCC assessments, and new literacy assessments … the ACT was really the only longitudinal data we have had to go and look at over time,” Messinger said. “I guess it’s a fresh start on all fronts now.”
Jason Glass, superintendent of the Eagle County school district, said he, too, was taken aback by the decision given the state’s longstanding history with the ACT, and that the SAT is favored by colleges on the East and West coasts.
While Glass said he doesn’t yet know the committee’s rationale, he has concerns about preparing students for the new test on short notice and communicating with parents, among other things.
Asked what kind of flexibility he’d like the state to give, Glass said he hopes the state allows districts to choose whether to give the ACT or SAT this school year.
“The quality (of the tests offered by the two vendors) is not a huge question,” Glass said. “So if they are equivalent tests, then why would you make this seismic shift that is going to have all these ripple effects? It seems the juice is not worth the squeeze. It’s going to be a lot of work to make this transition and the outcomes are not going to be that radically different.”
One factor that may have swayed Colorado: the SAT has a reputation for being more reason-based and focused on critical thinking, while the ACT has a reputation for being more of a fact-recall test, Glass noted.
State officials say the selection committee that recommended The College Board included educators and administrators from urban, rural and suburban districts, and included content matter experts, assessment experts, special population professionals, guidance counselors and higher education professionals.
Read Chalkbeat’s previous coverage of the competition between the two testing giants here.
Capitol editor Todd Engdahl contributed information to this report.