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

Test tweaks

Tennessee will halve science and social studies tests for its youngest students

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday plans to slim down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders as she seeks to respond to complaints of over-testing in Tennessee.

McQueen has been mulling over that option since meeting last summer with her testing task force. The State Department of Education received more public feedback on testing during the last eight months while developing the state’s new plan for its schools in response to a new federal education law.

Tennessee already has eliminated a state test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as shortened TNReady, the state’s end-of-year tests for math and reading.

It’s uncertain just how significant the latest reductions are, since McQueen also said that some “components” would be added to English tests in those grades.  

And the trimming, while significant, falls short of a suggestion to eliminate the tests altogether. Federal law does not require tests in science and social studies for those grades, like it does for math and English.

Parents and educators have become increasingly vocal about the amount of testing students are undergoing. The average Tennessee third-grader, for instance, currently spends more than 11 hours taking end-of-course tests in math, English, social studies and science. That doesn’t include practice tests and screeners through the state’s 3-year-old intervention program.

McQueen noted that more changes could be on the horizon. Her testing task force has also considered eliminating or reducing TNReady for 11th-graders because they already are required to take the ACT college-entrance exam. “We will continue to evaluate all of our options for streamlining assessments in the coming years, including in the 11th grade,” she wrote in a blog post.

McQueen also announced that the state is tweaking its schools plan to reduce the role that chronic absenteeism will play in school evaluation scores.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to evaluate schools based off of a measure that’s not directly tied to test scores. Tennessee officials have selected chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent of school days for any reason, including absences or suspension. McQueen said the measure will be changed to count for 10 percent of a school’s final grade, down from 20 percent for K-8 schools and 15 percent for high schools.

Some local district officials had raised concerns that absenteeism was out of the control of schools.

early adopters

Here are the 25 districts committing to taking TNReady online this spring

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

One year after Tennessee’s first attempt at online testing fizzled, 25 out of 140 Tennessee school districts have signed up to try again.

About 130 districts were eligible to test online this year.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday the number is what she expected as districts prepare to administer the state’s TNReady assessment in April.

Although all districts will make the switch to online testing by 2019 for middle and high school students, they had the option to forge ahead this year with their oldest students.

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Districts piloted Questar’s online platform last fall, and had until Wednesday to decide whether to forge ahead with online testing for their high school students this spring or opt for paper-and-pencil tests.

McQueen announced the state’s new game plan for TNReady testing in January and said she is confident that the new platform will work.

While this year was optional for high schools, all high schools will participate in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students.

Districts opting in this spring are:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County