School testing bill would have been ‘a giant step backward’

14 Oct 2019

update – Oct. 14, 2019

We were glad to see Gov. Gavin Newsom veto AB 751 over the weekend, saying that allowing use of the SAT and ACT in place of new state standardized tests would not increase college access but actually do the opposite. He noted in his veto message that “performance on these tests is highly correlated with race and parental income, and is not the best predictor for college success.”

original post – Oct. 4, 2019

The Pathways to College Act (AB 751) will not actually increase college access or help colleges better predict which students will be successful. Here’s what CLP executive director Linda Collins said in a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week.

Adopting AB 751 would be a giant step backward. The act’s provision allowing California schools and districts to use the SAT or ACT in place of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), which includes the test known as SBAC, could directly harm low-income students, students of color, English-language learners, and students with disabilities.

The idea behind allowing schools to use the SAT or ACT is that students bound for four-year colleges already have to take one of them. Indeed, it may seem that using these tests instead of something specific to California would encourage more students to think of themselves as college material, while reducing the testing burden on those who already do and increasing college access for everyone through low and reduced testing fees.

hand filling in a standardized testBut that hunch does not jibe with any research. Most importantly, the ACT and SAT don’t actually meet their intended goals terribly well. Research by PACE (Policy Analysis for California Education) and others has shown they are not solid predictors of student persistence or success at a California State University campus — and SAT scores are only marginally better than SBAC scores at predicting first-year students’ performance at the University of California.

AB 751 would be a departure from related progress the state and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office made when AB 705 took effect this year. Community colleges must now use multiple measures, including high school grades, instead of a placement test in assigning students to math and English courses, and they must support completion of transfer-level math and English within a year.

AB 751 also would undermine years of work by California educators to make K-12 testing more equitable, which resulted in CAASPP (it replaced the STAR test in 2014). And it would erase a secondary benefit of CAASPP: It provides much more reliable information to support California’s system for comparing schools and holding them accountable. Muddying that data would be a serious disservice to California families and students.

It is disturbing to see California retreating, especially when many colleges are considering downplaying the SAT and ACT or abandoning it altogether in favor of more reliable predictors of college success, like high school GPA. Even the UC system’s then-president, Richard Atkinson, proposed in 2001 that UC drop the SAT as an admissions requirement and use more reliable achievement tests instead.

We urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto AB 751 because would weaken California school accountability, restore biases in testing and education that limit college access, and reverse important progress California educators have made toward more equitable college admissions and placement.