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California Nixes Plan to Let Districts Substitute SAT for Smarter Balanced Exam

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California has nixed a plan to let school districts decide whether to use the SAT or the Smarter Balanced exam as their high school achievement test.

The plan was in Assembly Bill 1951, which was passed last month by the state legislature. But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it late last week. The legislature passed a similar bill last year, but it, too, was vetoed. 

The issue might not be dead, though. According to EdSource, the bill's author, Democrat Patrick O'Donnell of Long Beach, says he'll reintroduce it next year, when a new governor has replaced Brown. 

The bill sought to take advantage of new flexibility in the Every Student Succeeds Act. States have long been allowed to use college-admissions exams as their achievement tests for accountability, something more and more of them are choosing to do.

But ESSA added a new twist when it said that states could give districts permission to dump their state exam and use a "nationally recognized high school test"—widely understood to mean the SAT or ACT—instead.

States haven't exactly laid out a welcome mat for districts to do that, however. California became the first state to rebuff a district's request to take advantage of that new ESSA  provision when it rejected Long Beach's request last year to substitute the SAT for Smarter Balanced.  

When the California board of education turned Long Beach down, it said, among other things, that the SAT didn't sufficiently reflect the state's academic standards, even though a College Board study found otherwise.

That "alignment" issue has proved problematic for both the SAT and ACT as states take them through federal "peer review" at the U.S. Department of Education. Peer review is the process every state must go through when it decides to use a new assessment. Panels of experts must decide whether that new test is sufficiently aligned to a state's academic expectations. 

Because more states are deciding to use the SAT or ACT as their high school tests, they're taking those exams through peer review to get them approved.

Wisconsin and Wyoming ran into trouble getting approval for the ACT, and insufficient alignment surfaced as an issue in those reviews. Wisconsin is still working with federal officials to get approval. But Wyoming has since changed its testing lineup and doesn't use the ACT for high school achievement.

Connecticut was the first to take the newly redesigned SAT through peer review, and federal officials deferred full approval there also, in part because of insufficient alignment to Connecticut's common-core standards.

North Dakota is currently the only state that allows districts to swap one of the national college-admissions tests—the ACT—for its own state test.

Oklahoma took another route: It ended its required high school end-of-course tests, and lets districts choose instead between the ACT or the SAT.

That decision was one of the things that delayed federal approval of Oklahoma's ESSA plan. Federal officials ultimately told the state that if it was going to let districts choose between the two college-admissions exams, it had to pick one as its "default" test, with the other as an option. Oklahoma chose the SAT as its default exam.


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