College test change sparks concern at Aspen High
January 10, 2016
The state of Colorado's recent decision to make high school juniors take the SAT college entrance exam instead of the ACT is frustrating, impractical and likely money-driven, said Aspen High School's principal.
"It's a heck of a change for a lot of people," Tharyn Mulberry said. "I think it was an impractical choice."
The Colorado Department of Education announced Dec. 23 that it would require this year's high school juniors — some of whom have been studying for the ACT since the summer — to take the SAT instead. The change grew out of a competitive bidding process required by a law passed by the state Legislature in May.
The ACT has been the choice for Colorado high school juniors since 2001, and the change caught many off guard.
"I didn't think in my wildest dreams that the SAT would beat out the ACT," Mulberry said. "All of us were blown away. I don't think anybody believed it would happen."
The Aspen School District even paid thousands of dollars last semester to train two teachers in the ACT curriculum, he said.
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However, after the initial announcement, the education department has backed off a bit and said it is working with both testing entities to try and work out a transition proposal for this school year.
Dana Smith, the department's communication director, said Tuesday that state education officials don't believe it's in the best interest of the current crop of high school juniors to take the SAT. She said she's optimistic a solution can be worked out for this year, and that the department hopes to have a concrete announcement about it in the next week.
The change in the state-mandated college-entrance exam can be traced back to a bill passed by the Legislature in May requiring the education department to ask for competitive bids for the 10th-grade exam and the college exam, Smith said. A 15-person selection committee put out a request for proposals, which takes six to nine months, she said.
The committee concluded its work around Dec. 18, she said.
"We moved as quickly as we could," Smith said. "Still, we realized it would be a problem."
The reasons for the change included better alignment with Colorado academic standards, SAT-provided reports that better direct students to resources that help in learning and budgetary reasons, she said.
The University of Colorado and other state colleges take both the ACT and the SAT, Smith said. Most major universities throughout the country also take both, she said.
Olivia Oksenhorn, 16 and a junior at Aspen High School, agreed that taking the SAT this year would be a problem for her and her fellow juniors.
"It's really an inconvenient time to switch it," she said. "I have friends in my grade who started studying with tutors in June."
If the state doesn't come up with a solution, juniors would have until only April to study for the SAT, she said.
Kathleen Klug, college counselor at the high school, agreed with Oksenhorn.
"It's an April-mandated test and you want us to say there's enough time (to study for the SAT)?" Klug said. "Of course there's not."
She said that if the state doesn't come up with a solution, she will go to the mat to advocate for this year's juniors who have spent so much time and energy preparing for the ACT.
But beyond the timing issue, Klug said she's not concerned in general about the change to the SAT.
"It's an introduction to a new paradigm, a new way," Klug said. "The SAT is more of a reasoning test, (but) good math preparation is good math preparation."
If students can be exposed to the things they need to know for a test like the SAT, "they'll be fine," she said.
"The state's mistake was thinking you could throw (the new test) at kids and expect it to be just and fair," Klug said. "We're not upset at anything but the timing."
Still, she cautioned that Aspen High students — who generally score at the top of the state's ACT tests — may not appear quite as high with the SAT.
"They will be compared to kids who have taken it for 20 years," Klug said. "We will have to earn our way to the top."
Mulberry said he thinks the change was mainly money-driven.
"You'd have to conclude that based on the information we've been given," he said.
Smith said the budget was a factor but not the major factor. More information about the procurement process should be available soon after the "procurement period" ends, she said.
However, Mulberry said he doesn't think children will be adversely affected by the decision, though some might have to take both tests. And both Mulberry and Klug said Aspen High's curriculum won't have to change to accommodate the SAT.
"It's going to require a lot of recalibration," he said. "But overall, I don't think it will have a huge impact."