K-12 Testing Expands into College Admissions

University Testing

Several national and state organizations are currently pushing for the use of high school graduation tests in college admissions decisions. While many of these initiatives are in the early stages, the groups behind them appear determined to implement “K-16” testing schemes despite widespread opposition from many educators and college administrators.

National “K-16” testing projects
One of the forces behind the “K-16” testing movement is the American Diploma Project (ADP), created by Achieve, Inc., Education Trust, Fordham Foundation, and the National Alliance of Business. ADP advocates use of high school graduation exams for college admissions and employment decisions. Five states - Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, Texas, and Massachusetts - are involved in the project.

Education Trust is also spearheading the “State K-16 Networks” with help from the National Association of System Heads (NASH), an organization representing CEOs from 51 public higher education systems nationwide. The twenty-five states participating in the project bring together leaders from higher education, public schools, and business to form “K-16 Leadership Councils.” One of their two key focus issues includes, “Aligning high school graduation/college admissions and placement criteria so that all students graduate high school ready for college without need for remediation.” This alignment includes the use of high school graduation tests for college admissions.

Based at the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research, The Bridge Project is attempting to understand the ways K-16 policies are taking shape nationwide by focusing the experiences in six states. Most of these states are considering or have begun implementing policies that integrate state assessment results into college admissions. Researchers with the Bridge Project will analyze university admissions policies, freshmen placement and advising practices, and curriculum content/assessment standards for K-12 systems. Some of the final policy recommendations could lead to fine-tuning high school graduation exams for use in college admissions.

Coming soon to a state near you?
In April 2001, the Illinois Joint Education Committee P-16 Partnership instituted the three-part Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) to evaluate public schools (see Examiner, Fall 2000). Consisting of the ACT college admissions test, ACT Work Keys, and Illinois standards-specific components in writing, science, and social science, the PSAE may soon have a role in college admissions, according to one Illinois Board of Higher Education spokesperson.

Massachusetts policymakers have made several K-16 testing forays. In Spring 2001 the Board of Higher Education (BHE) considered using the high-stakes state MCAS exam as an admissions tool, but pressure from college administrators caused the BHE to abandon the idea. Less than one year later, members of the Massachusetts American Diploma Project team introduced a plan to the Board of Education (BOE) to include students’ 10th grade MCAS results on high school transcripts (see Examiner, Spring 2002). Strong opposition from K-12 educators, parents, and university administrators, organized in part by FairTest, prompted the Commissioner of Education to withdraw the proposal in May 2002; however, the BOE Chairman indicated that the concept will be revisited again this fall.

In July 2001, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed House Bill 1246, authorizing a study of the current admissions tools in the 16-campus state university system. The bill opens the door to building a “K-16” testing system: “The Board of Governors may also compare the State’s end-of-course testing with the SAT and ACT Assessment, assess how each reflects a student’s academic performance, and consider shifting the emphasis currently placed on the SAT and ACT Assessment as an admissions measure to the State’s end-of-course tests or other available tests as an admissions measure.”

“K-16” Testing Problems
Proponents of “K-16” plans generally argue that disconnects between K-12 and higher education systems have left many high school graduates unprepared for college or the workforce. They see state assessments as a key tool for closing this gap and improving college admissions and workforce skills.

The latter argument fails to recognize the mismatch between most state educational standards and the ability of standardized tests to provide accurate or comprehensive measures of student achievement of the standards. Scoring higher on state tests does not indicate a well-prepared student.

Among the many other reasons why high school graduation tests should not be used for college admissions: graduation exams were not designed and have not been validated for use as college admissions tests; public school students will be disadvantaged in the college admissions process since private school and out-of-state students are currently exempt from high school testing requirements in most states; re-tests in an effort to boost scores on state exams will cause further disruption to classrooms; efforts colleges are making towards enrolling a more diverse student body will be undermined by the high numbers of low-income students and students of color that either don’t pass high school graduation tests or earn low marks; and schools and students will squander more time and resources for test prep as the stakes rise even higher.