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.

Sincerely,

Elliott

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