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Former ACT Leader to Oversee Assessment at College Board

Cynthia B. Schmeiser, the former president of the education division at ACT Inc., is joining the College Board as its new chief of assessment.

That's the announcement that's coming out of the College Board this morning. When she comes aboard April 15, Schmeiser will oversee the SAT, PSAT, and Accuplacer programs, and supervise the New York City-based organization's research and test-development work. The Advanced Placement program isn't under Schmeiser's purview, but she will work closely with those who manage it.

Schmeiser's wheelhouse is smack in the middle of new College Board President David Coleman's top-priority areas: aligning the SAT with the Common Core State Standards and working to improve success rates for traditionally underserved students in the SAT and Advanced Placement programs.

Although the ACT's Jim Patterson represented the Iowa City, Iowa-based organization on the panels that drafted the common standards, Schmeiser was a key force in shaping the policy initiative early on, consulting frequently with the leaders of the groups that spearheaded it—the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Schools Officers—as well as with the standards' architects, including Coleman, who co-authored the English/language arts sections.

Schmeiser spent 38 years at ACT, the last five heading up the education division, before retiring in 2011. In an interview about her forthcoming work at the College Board, she said that she and Coleman want the College Board's assessments to improve education—"to model good instruction"—rather than serve only as indicators of achievement at static points in time.

"Because education is a long-term process, a continuous process, we need to look at assessment as being in the service of education, by looking at it as a coherent system, not as just a point in time, but across time, within the whole educational process," she said.

A good system of assessment, Schmeiser said, would be used "earlier, to inform the educational process." It would be able to offer timely information to guide instruction, indicate whether students are on track to being ready for college, and enable them to remediate or strengthen their areas of academic deficiency, she said.

Does this mean the College Board wants to build assessment systems that include formative and diagnostic assessments from the early grades on up, I asked? Schmeiser demurred on that one, saying that she is just beginning her work. Would the College Board seek to build a comprehensive system of tests, like the two federally funded state consortia are doing? (And like the ACT teamed up with Pearson to build?) Schmeiser said only that the two consortia are doing "critically important work" that the College Board would "continue to support."

Today's announcement by the College Board is the latest in a string of changes that have taken shape since Coleman took the helm last fall. Yesterday, the organization announced the appointment of Frank Ashley III as senior vice president of membership and higher education.

Late February brought the announcement that the Education Trust's Amy Wilkins would come aboard as senior fellow for social justice. In December, the College Board announced that it had lured Stefanie Sanford from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to lead its policy, advocacy, and government-relations work. Sanford was central to the philanthropy's support of the common standards.

More details about Schmeiser and her appointment will be posted on the news page of the College Board's website after the announcement is formally made this morning.

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