hitting the pause button

ACT may get one more year as Colorado’s mandatory 11th grade test

A protest outside a Boulder high school of last school year's CMAS tests.

Colorado 11th graders may all be taking the ACT college placement exam this spring after all.

Right before Christmas, the state Department of Education announced that Colorado would be switching its mandatory test for high school juniors from the ACT to a new version of the SAT, a product of the College Board.

The decision to switch to the SAT shocked many superintendents, educators and others who were incredulous at the timing and that the state would move away from a long-established exam that drew few if any complaints in an era of anti-testing backlash.

But in an email Monday evening to school district superintendents, Interim Education Commissioner Elliott Asp said the department is working with the two testing providers on a plan that would keep the ACT status quo for one more year.

“I know that this is a high-stakes assessment for students, with college entrance, placement and scholarships on the line,” Asp wrote. “To require this year’s 11th graders to take the SAT exam this spring – after they have already invested time, money and energy in preparing to take a different assessment – would not be in their best interest.”

Asp did not provide a time frame for a final decision. He previously promised that the department would explore “options for flexibility” for this year’s juniors.

Department spokeswoman Dana Smith said holding onto the ACT one more year “is not a done deal. It’s a proposal at this point.” However, she said the department realized “right away” that the timing of the decision so close to the exams this spring would pose a challenge to 11th graders.

Under the plan, every 11th grader would take the ACT this spring, and the SAT would become mandatory for next year’s 11th graders.

A selection committee chose the SAT for 11th graders and the PSAT as a new required test for 10th graders. The state is doing away with 10th and 11th grade PARCC English and math tests that proved especially unpopular with high school students in their debut last spring. Under the proposal the education department is working on, 10th graders would take the PSAT as planned.

State officials said that in making its decision, the committee cited the SAT tests’ alignment with the Common Core standards in math and English, and credited the College Board’s reporting system and resources as being more useful.

The decision was a significant coup for the College Board, which has been working to wrest control of the market for mandatory tests away from the ACT. The new SAT, debuting this March, is designed to align with the Common Core, with a greater focus on analytical reasoning and other changes.

College-bound high-school students across the country take either the ACT or SAT — or both — depending on where they want to go to school. But in Colorado, the ACT has been mandatory for high-school juniors since 2001 — and the state picks up the tab. The scores are part of the state’s system for holding schools and districts accountable for student performance.

The decision to go with the College Board tests is to become official at the end of the procurement process, which Smith said will come on Wednesday evening unless the ACT protests. As of Monday, no protest had been filed, she said.

State officials say they will make public both the details of the competing bids and the identities of the selection committee members after the procurement process. The state said the committee was made up of educators and administrators from urban, rural and suburban districts across the state. Content matter experts, assessment experts, special population professionals, guidance counselors and higher education professionals were represented.

Here is the full text of Asp’s letter to superintendents:
Dear Superintendents and BOCES Directors,

I have heard from students, educators and parents, as well as many of you, who are concerned about the impact of the selection of the College Board’s SAT exam for Colorado’s college entrance exam this year.

I want to assure you that I hear your concerns, and I agree with many of them. While I know the selection committee chose the exam they found would be most beneficial to students over the long term, the timing of the RFP process and the selection leaves this year’s 11th-grade students in a difficult position.

Many of this year’s 11th graders have been getting ready to take the ACT college entrance exam this spring through a variety of preparation activities including taking practice exams, using commercially available ACT preparation materials, and taking an ACT precursor assessment. I know that this is a high-stakes assessment for students, with college entrance, placement and scholarships on the line. To require this year’s 11th graders to take the SAT exam this spring – after they have already invested time, money and energy in preparing to take a different assessment – would not be in their best interest.

CDE is working with the vendors on a transition proposal that would allow 11th grade students to take the ACT this year only, instead of the new SAT. This would not change the requirement for this year’s 10th graders to take the PSAT 10 in preparation for Colorado’s full transition to the SAT in spring 2017.

More details on this proposal, as well as implementation of the PSAT, are being provided to your district assessment coordinators, and I will keep you posted on our progress with this idea.

As always, if you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.



Elliott Asp, Ph.D.
Interim Commissioner of Education
Office of the Commissioner

Not Ready

Memphis students won’t see TNReady scores reflected in their final report cards

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

Shelby County Schools has joined the growing list of Tennessee districts that won’t factor preliminary state test scores into students’ final grades this year.

The state’s largest school district didn’t receive raw score data in time, a district spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The State Department of Education began sharing the preliminary scores this week, too late in the school year for many districts letting out in the same week. That includes Shelby County Schools, which dismisses students on Friday.

While a state spokeswoman said the timelines are “on track,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the timing was unfortunate.

“There’s a lot of discussion about too many tests, and I think anytime you have a situation where you advertise the tests are going to be used for one thing and then we don’t get the data back, it becomes frustrating for students and families. But that’s not in our control,” he said Tuesday night.

Hopson added that the preliminary scores will still get used eventually, but just not in students’ final grades. “As we get the data and as we think about our strategy, we’ll just make adjustments and try to use them appropriately,” he said.

The decision means that all four of Tennessee’s urban districts in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga won’t include TNReady in all of their students’ final grades. Other school systems, such as in Williamson and Wilson counties, plan to make allowances by issuing report cards late, and Knox County will do the same for its high school students.

Under a 2015 state law, districts can leave out standardized test scores if the information doesn’t arrive five instructional days before the end of the school year. This year, TNReady is supposed to count for 10 percent of final grades.

Also known as “quick scores,” the data is different from the final test scores that will be part of teachers’ evaluation scores. The state expects to release final scores for high schoolers in July and for grades 3-8 in the fall.

The Department of Education has been working with testing company Questar to gather and score TNReady since the state’s testing window ended on May 5. About 600,000 students took the assessment statewide in grades 3-11.

State officials could not provide a district-by-district listing of when districts will receive their scores.

“Scores will continue to come out on a rolling basis, with new data released every day, and districts will receive scores based on their timely return of testing materials and their completion of the data entry process,” spokeswoman Sara Gast told Chalkbeat on Monday. “Based on district feedback, we have prioritized returning end-of-course data to districts first.”

Caroline Bauman and Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.

Making the grade

TNReady scores are about to go out to Tennessee districts, but not all will make student report cards

PHOTO: Chalkbeat Photo Illustration

The State Department of Education will start Monday to distribute the test score data that goes into students’ final report cards, but it won’t arrive in time for every district across the state.

That’s because some districts already have ended their school years, some won’t have time to incorporate TNReady grades before dismissing their students, and some missed the state’s first deadline for turning in testing materials.

“Our timelines for sharing TNReady scores are on track,” spokeswoman Sara Gast said Friday, noting that the schedule was announced last fall. “We have said publicly that districts will receive raw score data back in late May.”

Shelby County Schools is waiting to see when their scores arrive before making a decision. A spokeswoman said Tennessee’s largest district met all testing deadlines, and needs the scores by Monday to tabulate them into final grades. The district’s last day of school is next Friday.

School leaders in Nashville and Kingsport already have chosen to exclude the data from final grades, while Williamson County Schools is delaying their report cards.

A 2015 state law lets districts opt to exclude the data if scores aren’t received at least five instructional days before the end of the school year.

TNReady scores are supposed to count for 10 percent of this year’s final grades. As part of the transition to TNReady, the weight gradually will rise to between 15 and 25 percent (districts have flexibility) as students and teachers become more familiar with the new test.

The first wave of scores are being sent just weeks after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen declared this year’s testing a “success,” both on paper and online for the 24 districts that opted to test high school students online this year. Last year, Tennessee had a string of TNReady challenges in the test’s inaugural year. After the online platform failed and numerous delivery delays of printed testing materials, McQueen canceled testing in grades 3-8 and fired its previous test maker, Measurement Inc.

Tennessee test scores have been tied to student grades since 2011, but this is the first year that the state used a three-week testing window instead of two. Gast said the added time was to give districts more flexibility to administer their tests. But even with the added week, this year’s timeline was consistent with past years, she said.

Once testing ended on May 5, school districts had five days to meet the first deadline, which was on May 10, to return those materials over to Questar, the state’s new Minneapolis-based testing company.

School officials in Nashville said that wasn’t enough time.

“Due to the volume of test documents and test booklets that we have to account for and process before return for scoring, our materials could not be picked up before May 12,” the district said in a statement on Thursday.

Because districts turned in their testing materials at different times, the release of raw scores, will also be staggered across the next three weeks, Gast said.