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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, November 07, 2017 5:40 pm

Panel: Replace state's accountability exams with ACT or SAT

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS - All Indiana students would be required to take the ACT or SAT according to a recommendation passed by an appointed board looking at expanding graduation requirements.

These college-ready exams would replace the end-of-course Algebra I and English 10 assessments - also known as ECAs - and would count as the state's federally- and state- required accountability exams for high school.

The surprising nugget was added to the draft proposal late Monday night after some behind-the-scenes discussions among members of the Graduation Pathways Panel. That group has been working for months on the topic and have had five other iterations that did not include dumping the ECAs/Grade 10 ISTEP exam.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said taking an ACT or SAT is purposeful, and an opportunity to move to post-secondary education would be tied to it.

But she was clearly bothered by the last-minute shift on the topic.

"It's frustrating to know that we are being told if you don't make a decision quickly then you're legislatively up against the wall," McCormick said. "That's why I think it's important that decisions aren't made in the 11th hour that impact generations of kids."

The change would still have to be approved by the State Board of Education - possibly next month - and codified by the Indiana General Assembly in the 2018 session.

It would first impact the graduating class of 2023, or eighth graders in 2018-2019. Currently the participation rate of Indiana students on the SAT is 71 percent; 40 percent for the ACT.

Byron Ernest, chair of the graduation pathways panel and a state board member, said the change was in response to feedback and suggestions from other panelists and stakeholders.

"Students and families need to understand why they are being tested, and the SAT and ACT already have that currency," he said. "Everybody understands."

State board member Steve Yager of Allen County said there have been a lot of side meetings occurring with new information showing up suddenly. He said he is not comfortable voting in December and doesn't understand the rush.

He also noted that most of the members of the graduation pathways panel don't represent the traditional K-12 system or deal with kids every day. Instead, they represent the business, higher ed or private school communities. 

State board member Cari Whicker of Wells County said the topic has been broached before in other contexts but she was "surprised because it was new to see it here."

She noted the state has vacillated between having a 10th-grade Graduation Qualifying Exam vs. end-of-course assessments in Algebra 1 and English 10. That back-and-forth has provided very little continuity for students.

McCormick voted for the final report from the Graduation Pathway Panel that included the change in accountability testing for high-schoolers.

But her staff also prepared some estimates on cost to pay for all students to take the ACT or SAT. She said the department has some money in its budget but funding from the legislature is critical.

She also noted the state is finalizing a bidding process on a new testing system and this new recommendation would require changes to it as the process is wrapping up.

The Indiana Department of Education estimated the cost of all students taking the SAT at about $3 million. The estimate was slightly lower for the ACT. It also assumes a student takes the test only once while some students take it multiple times on a voluntary basis to improve their scores.

Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said state costs could go down when the state bids it out formally and receives a bulk price. The estimate was based on the unit price available to all students taking the test. 

Behning said the end-of-course assessments are just extra work and don't carry any real value other than meeting the state and federal requirement to give a high school accountability test.

Another complicating factor is the federal Department of Education has not approved either the SAT or ACT for accountability purposes, though peer review of the SAT is underway in several states.

Behning noted that Indiana likely would have to augment an ACT or SAT to ensure Indiana's specific academic standards are covered.

But pathways panel member David Freitas - also a state board member - said Indiana's standards are 90 percent aligned to Common Core so there shouldn't be a need to augment the ACT or SAT with another test.

nkelly@jg.net