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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

Limited range

College tests poor choice for grading schools

The State Board of Education, the panel now formulating most of Indiana's K-12 education policy, convenes a work session Wednesday to discuss its latest proposal for assigning letter grades to Indiana schools. Legislation just approved by the General Assembly calls for using a college entrance exam in testing all high school students – a windfall for a testing company, but a poor choice for Indiana students, schools and taxpayers.

The appointed board has not been responsive to public comment, but voters should be aware the state is about to take another costly and damaging detour on testing. Lawmakers – particularly those facing re-election this year – should hear from them.

House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Behning surprised some members of the State Board of Education in November with a pitch to replace end-of-course assessments for high school students with a college entrance exam administered to sophomores. 

The State Board adopted it as part of its larger A-F accountability rule proposal, and Behning included the entrance exam requirement, effective in 2021, in House Bill 1426. While the bill does not specify use of the SAT, most observers believe that will be the state's choice because a greater percentage of Indiana's college-bound students choose it over the ACT.

The College Board, which administers the fee-based SAT exam, and the rival ACT exam are aggressively pushing for states to require their tests because an increasing number of colleges and universities are dropping college-entrance exam requirements, declaring high school grades a better predictor of college success.

“They're selling wholesale instead of retail,” Bob Schaeffer, the public education director for FairTest, told the New York Times in 2016. “Instead of dealing with hundreds of thousands of parents or kids one on one with credit cards, you go to Albany or Hartford or Trenton, you deal with a couple of bureaucrats and suddenly you've got 100,000 kids or more.”

Indiana has another connection to the College Board. State Rep. Todd Huston, a former member of the State Board of Education and former House Education Committee member, is senior vice president for state and district partnerships at the College Board, where the Fishers Republican earned about $450,000 in salary and benefits, according to 2016 tax documents for the organization. 

Huston didn't vote on HB 1426, but his employer would see a windfall if it were awarded the state contract to administer both the PSAT and SAT as a high school graduation requirement. In conference committee discussions, Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, appeared to promote its use over the ACT because performance differences from the PSAT to the SAT could serve as a way to measure academic growth.

But neither the College Board's SAT nor the ACT is a proper test for measuring high school academic performance, according to Achieve, an organization promoting high-quality standards and testing.

“The danger in using admissions tests as accountability tests for high school is that many high school teachers will be driven to ... water down the high school content they are supposed to teach in mathematics, or too narrowly focus on a limited range of skills in (English/language arts),” according to the Achieve report released this month.

Dozens of Indiana educators have told the State Board the SAT is designed as a predictor of college performance, not high school accountability. As Gov. Eric Holcomb and others push for more career pathways for Indiana students, including apprenticeships and vocational programs, it makes no sense for the state to require every student to take a college entrance exam.

Legislators signed off on the requirement with the just-approved diploma bill, but they should know Hoosiers are tired of flawed and expensive testing requirements. Leave the college entrance exams to college-bound students.