Monday, July 11, 2016

IL: State Finds Worse Tool Than PARCC

Well, it's a good day for the SAT marketing team, which has now conned the state of Illinois into replacing PARCC with the College Board's flagship Big Standardized Test (or you can follow this link to the state board of education's own website, because the folks at the State Journal-Register have just gone ahead and run the ISBE press release verbatim. Because reporting is hard).

“District and school administrators overwhelmingly agree with ISBE that every high school junior should have access to a college entrance exam, a policy that promotes equity and access and that provides each and every student with greater opportunities in higher education,” State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said in a statement. “The SAT is aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards and will continue to empower educators to measure college and career readiness.”

Yes, the Illinois State Board of Education is just doing this because everyone asked for it. Also, if you're an anti-CCSS Illinois resident, please note that the SAT can only be aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards if those standards are exactly the same as the Common Core.

Folks indicated that students didn't take the PARCC seriously (which is understandable), though it's not clear why they would take the SAT seriously.On the other hand, it's crystal clear why the College Board would take seriously the opportunity to supplant (not supplement) the PARCC-- big, fat honking market share. Why do all the hard work of selling tests to one customer at a time when you can con a state into buying a round for everyone in the house?

There are, however, several huge problems with this idea.

Some are left-over problems. The SAT can't remotely measure the college-and-career readiness of student whose heart is set on a career in welding or running hotels or the ministry. But neither could the PARCC. But there are other new, special problems that come with substituting the SAT.

First, it's not remotely what the SAT was ever designed to do. The SAT was designed to allow colleges to gauge about how ready an individual student was. If the test had any virtue at all, it was that there was never a "pass" or "fail." Harvard could look at your SAT scores and say, "No, you're not ready for us," and Wottsamatta U could look at the same scores and say, "We'd like to offer you a scholarship, a nice room, and free ice cream every Sunday." As I have told thirty years' worth of fretful juniors, whether your score is good or not depends on the school and the major that you have in mind. So how will Illinois translate this into an accountability score? Will it demand all students-- even those who have no intention of going to a four year college-- show Harvard-level "readiness"?

Second, the SAT didn't even do what it was intended to do particularly well. High school GPA remains a more reliable predictor of college performance than the SAT. So not only has Illinois hired a plumber to fix an electrical wiring problem, but they've hired a plumber who wasn't even very good at plumbing.

Third, the current version of the SAT is a horrendous mess. David Coleman, who proudly touted his lack of expertise when whipping up the Common Core, has now provided that same lack of expertise to the SAT redesign, attempting to make it more Common Core compliant, even as we have collectively figured out that the standards are hooey. So we've got a test that may or may not measure standards that may or may not prepare students for college and career.

The new PSAT rollout last fall was a mess, with exceptionally late returns on results, and the spring rollout of the new SAT was also plagued with problems. And it turns out, according to a College Board whistleblower, the test was so hastily thrown together that it was riddled with errors and untested items.

Fourth, I have yet to see an explanation from anyone in the College Board camp about how the scoring process would accommodate the influx of non-college bound students. The SAT scores have to be massaged each year based on the total results form the students-- but those students are self-selecting the students who intend to go to college. It is no slam on the current test non-takers to suggest that they will likely come in on the low end of the scale, and not simply match the curve of the usual college-bound SAT customers. What will that do to the proprietary curve magic that the SAT uses to turn raw scores into SAT scores? How will it affect the all-important percentile mapping? I have no idea whether this will be a good thing or a bad thing, but it does appear to be a thing that nobody has offered an explanation for yet, and from a company that apparently couldn't even vet all its test items before unleashing them on unsuspecting customers, that seems problematic.

Officials can try to sell this move by saying repeatedly, "We got rid of that awful PARCC you hated! Isn't that great!!" But telling someone, "We're not going to steal your wallet after all," is not good news if you follow it with, "Instead, we're going to burn down your house."

And the suggestion that this will cut down on all that test prep time is nuts. Illinois students were already trying to adjust to the substitution of the SAT for the ACT. The College Board may be on its way to a sweet, sweet revenue hike here, but they will be followed closely by SAT tutoring services.

Illinois is not the first state to make this boneheaded move, and they may not be the first to figure out it was a bonehead move. Let's see how long it takes the opt-out organizations to get right back into action.


  1. It's hard to see how such ill-informed actions could take place without kickbacks being involved. Of course, something like that would never happen in Illinois.

  2. Illinois had already actually decided last fall to start administering SAT as a statewide test of 11th graders to replace ACT. (They didn't manage to actually do so though because of the state budget troubles...Yes, IL state gov't is even more of a mess than PA's! So many districts just cashed out for the ACT themselves out of their local district budget.)

    The original plan for this year 2016-2017 was to administer both PARCC (in three grades of high school) and the SAT. Dropping PARCC is just an acknowledgement of the fact that it was reviled by high school administrators, teachers and students alike, and they can no longer fool everyone into thinking its obligatory to give PARCC if SAT counts for federal accountability compliance at the high school level.

    On the plus side, SAT is unlikely to be of lower quality than PARCC. (Some of PARCC wasn't even field tested prior to its administration in 2015...), and it's shorter, and no more expensive.

    And to be fair, in a state where---from what we can tell---no money has even been spent on state assessments (because none has been appropriated by the legislature or forced to be spent via court order) in the last year, it's not clear when the College Board will even receive their money for this test...Yikes!

  3. Peter,

    Not sure whether you're aware of this, but the redesigned SAT is effectively PARCC-lite. It's shorter, and there are some cosmetic differences as well as somewhat different emphases on the Math section (almost no geometry), but the SAT now being administered bears almost no resemblance to the pre-March 2016 test. See: