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Admission Tests Produce Inaccurate Data when Measuring Student Achievement

States using college admission tests such as the SAT or ACT for measuring achievement of state learning standards are being cautioned to rethink using tests in this manner.

States using college admission tests such as the SAT or ACT for measuring achievement of state learning standards are being cautioned to rethink using tests in this manner in a new report from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at Indiana University. There are currently six states using these college admission tests for both high- and low-stakes testing to gauge No Child Left Behind compliance, which researchers worry is not accurately measuring high school achievement of the entire student population and not lining up with state curriculum learning standards.

Approximately 10 years ago, recalls Richard Noeth, education consultant and co-author of this report, a handful of states began using the SAT and ACT as a statewide measure of achievement. The problem, he says, is that these tests were developed to measure only the population of college-bound students.

"When it's taken by all students, we see that a number of students were not performing well enough to be accurately tested because it's too difficult for them," says Noeth.

Admission tests also do not align with any state's curriculum and learning standards. Maine, Michigan and Illinois use college admission tests for high-stakes testing, which have direct consequences attached to the results, while Colorado, Kentucky and Wyoming use these tests for low-stakes testing, which have little consequences outside the school.

"There are many purposes to education, including preparing students for college, citizenship, and workforce knowledge. These are mostly reflected in state standards," says David Rutkowski, CEEP assistant research scientist. "These tests were created outside the framework of those specific state standards."

In 2008, the Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admissions labeled this practice as "test misuse," although no states have since changed their policies and little follow-up research has been conducted beyond the CEEP report.

Michigan began using the ACT in Spring 2007 as a part of its NCLB high school assessment. According to Joseph Martineau, director of Educational Assessment and Accountability at the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan adopted a new high school curriculum that required the high school test, the Michigan Merit Examination, include a college entrance examination.

"Thirty percent of high school students who never took a college entrance exam are doing so now and have a sense of their standings relative to college entrance standards," says Martineau. "Submission of college entrance scores to Michigan institutions of higher education have doubled since he adoption of a college entrance examination as a portion of the Michigan Merit Examination." Martineau says the state selects items from the ACT that best reflect their content standards and supplement with other items.

Admission tests could have more relevance in measuring standards in the coming years as the Common Core Standards are implemented. Rutkowski says both the SAT and ACT had members on the Common Core Standards advisory boards, and he expects to see the tests reflect these standards in some manner. In the meantime, however, he encourages state education leaders to re-examine how these tests align with their state standards and what data they're producing.

The full report is available here.