ACT Math Score Drop Unsurprising Says Past NCTM President

ACT released its Condition of College and Career Readiness 2018 report where they report math scores are at a 20-year low nationally. 

They also noted that college readiness in math is trending downward among ACT-tested US high school graduates, falling to its lowest mark in 14 years. 

“The negative trend in math readiness is a red flag for our country, given the growing importance of math and science skills in the increasingly tech-driven US and global job market,” said ACT CEO Marten Roorda. “It is vital that we turn this trend around for the next generation and make sure students are learning the math skills they need for success in college and career.”

Education Week reported on the ACT report and they include a quote that is rather surprising. Catherine Gewertz wrote, “Matt Larson, the immediate past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said the math scores ‘are extremely disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.’”

Not surprising? Of course, I’m not surprised because we’ve seen this trend with ACT and we anticipated problems, but I have to admit I’m surprised to read a person whose organization shilled for Common Core.

They continue:

In a report released earlier this year, the NCTM called for major shifts in the way math is organized and taught in high school, including focusing more deeply on fewer essential concepts. Larson said that states have made solid progress adopting good math standards, but the ACT results suggest that schools need to focus on improving curriculum and instructional practice to bring those expectations fully to life.

“As a country, we’ve reached the limits of what we can get out of standards alone,” he said. “We need to pay more attention to what is taking place in the classroom.”

Oh, we’ve taken Common Core as far as we could? 

That was a short, disappointing ride. Nah, it’s not the standards, it’s everything else that is the problem… I couldn’t possibly be the standards! 

Common Core, The Great “Leveler”

Photo Credit: Stephen Mally/The Cedar Rapids Gazette

This is getting tiresome. Every new round of test scores, whether from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or some other vehicle, shows either stagnation or decline in reading and math performance of American students. Every time this happens, we write about the now undeniable connection to the Common Core national standards, which began to be implemented in most states in 2010. The recently released and utterly predictable scores from ACT require yet another commentary on the decline of academic performance and college-readiness under Common Core. 

How many times must this cycle repeat before someone in power is shamed into doing something about it?

Let’s look first at ACT’s college-readiness. According to Education Week, ACT correlates scores with students’ likelihood of earning Bs or Cs in credit-bearing college coursework. This year, only 40 percent of test-takers met the benchmark in math – the lowest level since 2004, and down from 46 percent in 2012. Significantly, unlike today’s students, the higher-scoring 2012 students had had little if any exposure to the glorious reforms of Common Core. As for reading, only 60 percent of test-takers met the college-readiness benchmark – the lowest level ever in the 16-year history of the benchmark. 

As for the straight scores, Education Week breaks the news: “The average math score for the graduating class of 2018 was 20.5, marking a steady decline from 20.9 five years ago, and virtually no progress since 1998, when it was 20.6.” And reading? “[T]he scores in English didn’t offer much cause for celebration, either. The average score for the class of 2018 was 20.2, the same as five years ago, and down half a point from the English-score high in 2007.”

But the hits just keep on comin’. Average composite scores fell in all racial and ethnic groups except Asian-Americans. So Common Core has been a great leveler – just not in the way it was promised. 

ACT’s chief executive officer was in a gloomy mood. “We’re at a very dangerous point. And if we do nothing, it will keep on declining,” he predicted.

So what should we do? Anyone with no Gates funding and two brain cells to rub together would conclude that a good start would be ditching Common Core lock, stock, and barrel – every “informational text,” every “close reading,” every “deeper conceptual understanding,” every “Lexile” measure, every “alternative algorithm,” every “real-world problem-solving,” every “rigorous” standard, every delay in standard algorithms, every delay in algebra, every “collaboration,” every “consensus,” all of it. Surely this will happen now.

Or maybe not. The progressive-education reformers have a lot invested in this experiment, and they’re guarding their interests. The immediate past-president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, an organization that bears much blame for pushing the kind of ridiculous math enshrined in Common Core, isn’t giving up the national standards without a fight. As reported in Education Week, this educrat “said that states have made solid progress adopting the good math standards, but the ACT results suggest that schools need to focus on improving curriculum and instructional practice to bring those expectations fully to life.”

Ah yes, that’s the ticket – the standards are great, so if we only improve “curriculum and instructional practice,” our kids may once again learn to read and work math problems.  This is certainly Bill Gates’s position, and after all he’s very rich and so knows of what he speaks. And this is basically the position of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which recently released a report singing the praises of Common Core. Rarely does such a report get disproven in only a few months. Unfortunate timing for Fordham.

For those keeping score at home, here’s the evidence of the raging success of Common Core:

  • From the 2015 NAEP scores: for the first time in over 20 years, declines in math performance across the board, stagnation or declines in reading performance, and decline in college-readiness benchmarks in both areas.
  • From the 2017 NAEP scores: no improvement from the dismal 2015 scores.
  • From the 2017 NAEP scores: increased “achievement gap” between white/Asian students and other minority groups.
  • From the 2017 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) test: U.S. students tumble from 5th in the world to 13th.

The protective edifice that has been erected around Common Core – by the federal government, state education establishments, private foundations, corporations, education consultants, and individual megalomaniacs – has got to go. If these defenders refuse to acknowledge the truth staring them in the face, they are elevating their own interests over those of American children. 

Gov. Jerry Brown, Assessment Control Freak

I don’t think anyone has accused California Governor Jerry Brown of being an advocate for local control, but here’s definitive proof that isn’t the case. He vetoed a bill, AB 1951, last week that would allow local school districts to substitute Smarter Balanced with the SAT or ACT for 11th graders.

Since the vast majority of students who plan to go to college take either one of those college-entrance exams (or both), it is a move that makes sense.

For the record, I believe there should be alternatives to those assessments (I’ve profiled a couple here), and we have also seen colleges drop the assessment requirement altogether

Brown’s answer to this is to require the University of California and California State University systems to accept Smarter Balanced as their college entrance exam.

In his veto message Brown wrote:

This bill requires the Superintendent of Public Instruction to approve one or more nationally recognized high school assessments that a local school may administer in lieu of the state-administered high school summative assessment, commencing with the 2019-20 school year.

Since 2010, California has eliminated standardized testing in grades 9 and 10 and the high school exit exam. While I applaud the author’s efforts to improve student access to college and reduce “testing fatigue” in grade 11, I am not convinced that replacing the state’s high school assessment with the Scholastic Aptitude Test or American College Test achieves that goal.

Our K-12 system and our public universities are now discussing the possible future use of California’s grade 11 state assessment for college admission purposes. This is a better approach to improving access to college for under-represented students and reducing “testing fatigue.”

This “better idea” of Governor Brown’s is not feasible as the author of the bill, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), EdSource reports:

Neither system currently does that, but at the request of Kirst, who is president of the State Board of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a UC administrator wrote in July that the UC would consider whether that would be feasible.

But O’Donnell said that even if CSU and UC were interested, it would take years for them to factor Smarter Balanced scores into their admissions criteria. His bill would have given districts the option of switching to the SAT or ACT in 2019-20.

He said that Brown’s veto message didn’t address his main reason for proposing his bill, which is to alert students of deficits in their skills before their junior year, in addition to encouraging more students to pursue college. Smarter Balanced tests students in 3rd to 8th grades and then 11th grade. It’s not given in 9th and 10th grades, creating a two-year gap. O’Donnell, a middle and high school teacher before his election to the Assembly, said that districts like Long Beach have used the Pre-SAT, starting in 8th grade, to fill in the vacuum of information by identifying what needs to be addressed before students take the SAT.

O’Donnell, who is the Assembly Education Committee Chair, told EdSource he plans to move the bill again next year when there is a new governor.

ACT to Develop a Standardized Morals Assessment

Photo Credit: Stephen Mally/The Cedar Rapids Gazette

ACT announced last week that they won a contract to provide a standardized assessment for a moral education program for students in the United Arab Emirates called the Moral Education Standardized Assessment (MESA).

In their press release, they state they will leverage the expertise of its US-based research and test development teams to create the assessment, which will also utilize the latest theory and principles of social and emotional learning (SEL) throughout the development process. 

“We are thrilled to be supporting a holistic approach to student success,” ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe said. “We know that social and emotional learning skills are crucial to success in school and life and these skills can be taught and developed over time. With their learning and measurement expertise, our teams will create a world-class assessment that measures UAE student readiness, so teachers can more effectively foster the shared cultural values across UAE’s diverse communities.”

“Moral Education is an innovative, engaging curriculum designed to develop young people of all nationalities and ages in the UAE with universal principles and values that reflect the shared experiences of humanity,” Mohammed Khalifa Al Nuaimi, the Director of the Education Affairs Office at the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, said. “The curriculum was introduced in the UAE in 2017 in an initiative from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Through the MESA, we plan to assess the impact of Moral Education over time in an independent and standardized manner. Beyond testing the students’ knowledge and understanding of concepts, we aim to measure their awareness of the character traits and values underpinning the Moral Education Program.”

The UAE’s Moral Education program builds upon these four “pillars”:

Character & Morality: “The character and morality curriculum is centred around developing each student as honest, tolerant, resilient and persevering individuals.”

Individual & Community: “A true citizen is one that takes care of themselves in addition to caring about the good of society and participating actively to make things better.”

Civic Studies: “Whether a student was born in the UAE or moved here with their family, it is essential to understand the fundamentals of how the UAE was formed and how it is governed today.”

Cultural Studies: “Culture is an inherent part of a society and the program wants to highlight UAE’s shared human culture that encapsulates the traditions and symbols that help define who we are.”

While the UAE is certainly more “tolerant” than some of their neighbors, they are not exactly a bastion of freedom and religious tolerance. 

This kind of assessment also begs the question: whose morals will be taught and assessed? 

So why am I writing about a morality assessment that will be used in the UAE at Truth in American Education? Peter Greene in his piece at Forbes made the following point:

It would be easy to pass this course and test off as an exercise in futility, except for a couple of things. First, the test will likely be digital, and therefore captured as more data for the test taker’s personal permanent file. Second, while the program is being piloted for UAE, once ACT has it built, they’re sure to want to market it other places as well. Keep your eyes peeled for the standardized morality test at a school near you.

Look for ACT to bring this test home once they have their test bank items developed. 

ACT Sued by Disabled Students Over Release of Personal Information

A class action lawsuit was filed against ACT by a group of disabled students and parents of disabled students for the release of personal information.

The nation-wide lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by with Panish Shea & Boyle LLP and Miller Advocacy Group. They claim that ACT violated the civil rights of disabled students.

The plaintiffs allege that the Iowa City-based testing company acquired the disability status of students taking the ACT college entrance exam and then disclosing that confidential disability information on score reports to colleges and other programs. They also allege ACT sold the information to other for recruitment and enrollment purposes. This activity is a direct violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Unruh Act, California Constitution, and California’s Unfair Competition Law.

“ACT flags students’ test scores, discloses their confidential information to colleges pre-admission, and stigmatizes students with disabilities in the admissions process,” Rahul Ravipudi of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, said. “Not only does this unlawful practice violate the privacy, security and confidentiality of information entrusted to ACT by the students in its care – it does so for profit, and at the expense of America’s most vulnerable students who are striving to further their education.”

Their complaint states two ways that ACT illegally uses student’s disability information: 

  1. ACT “flags” student score reports by disclosing detailed student disability information and the use of accommodations on the score report it sends to colleges. This information is collected through questions on the online ACT Student Profile Section filled out when students register to take the exam. On exam day students also fill out the Student Information Form.
  2. ACT sells the detailed student disability data to various postsecondary organizations including colleges, scholarship programs, and other third parties who use it for recruitment and marketing related to the admissions process.

The plaintiffs allege unlike ACT sending the score report to colleges; this information was sent without the student or high school’s knowledge. 

“I was shocked to learn that ACT was using my disability information against me and making it more difficult for me to get into college and get the money I need to go to college,” Halie Bloom, one of the plaintiffs said. “I’m speaking out, because I know that someone has to stand-up for all of the students who are scared about how their disabilities will be used against them.”

Bloom is a college-bound, 2018 high school graduate who had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under the IDEA and a 504 Plan under the Rehabilitation Act since middle school, and she took the ACT several times with approved accommodations. ACT acquired Ms. Bloom’s disability status from her testing registration and annotated her score reports with “learning or cognitive disability” that requires special provisions. ACT disclosed Ms. Bloom’s disabilities on all ACT Test score reports sent on her behalf to colleges to which she applied and thereby flagged her score reports. She had no expectation that ACT would include her disability status with her score reports or otherwise ever disclose her confidential disability information.

Read the complaint filed below:

Student Data For Sale

Natasha Singer in The New York Times wrote about how student data collected by the College Board through surveys connected with the SAT and PSAT.

I wanted to highlight an excerpt:

Three thousand high school students from across the United States recently trekked to a university sports arena here to attend an event with an impressive-sounding name: the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders. Many of their parents had spent $985 on tuition.

Months earlier, the teenagers had received letters, signed by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, congratulating them on being nominated for “a highly selective national program honoring academically superior high school students.”

The students all had good grades. But many of them were selected for the event because they had once filled out surveys that they believed would help them learn about colleges and college scholarships.

Through their schools, many students in the audience had taken a college-planning questionnaire, called MyCollegeOptions. Others had taken surveys that came with the SAT or the PSAT, tests administered by the College Board. In filling out those surveys, the teenagers ended up signing away personal details that were later sold and shared with the future scientists event.

Read the rest.

She mentioned the U.S. Department of Education in May released guidance on this particular practice (which ACT does as well). This guidance recommended that schools make it clearer that pre-test surveys are optional. You can it below:

 

Students Want College Board to Rescore June SAT Results

After David Coleman took the helm of The College Board it just seems like they’ve had one controversy after another whether it is the revamping of the SAT or problems with their AP U.S. History and World History Frameworks, they keep having problems.

Now students are protesting the scoring from June’s SAT results.

The News & Observer reports:

Many students who took the SAT exam in June were surprised Wednesday to get back results that they thought were inaccurate because the score was lower than they thought. The College Board, which administers the SAT, told students that because versions of the exam given on different dates are easier than others, they use a statistical process called “equating” to grade the answers on a curve.

“Equating makes sure that a score for a test taken on one date is equivalent to a score from another date,” the College Board tweeted Thursday morning. “So, for example, a single incorrect answer on one administration could equal two or three incorrect answers on a more difficult version. The equating process ensures fairness for all students.”

The College Board’s response didn’t satisfy families who are using the results as part of the college application process. Students and parents took their complaints to social media with the hashtag #rescoreJuneSAT picking up momentum on Twitter.

Read the rest.

They note this comes at a time where the SAT has already lost ground to their rival, ACT.

Brown Is Fourth Ivy League School to Drop SAT/ACT Essay Requirement

Sayles Hall on Brown University’s Campus in Providence, RI.
Photo Credit: Ad Meskens via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Brown University announced that it will join Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth Universities as the fourth Ivy League school that will no longer require the ACT writing or SAT essay test.

8000 schools nationwide offer free school-day SATs, but those do not include the essay portion of the SAT Logan Powell, Brown’s Dean of Admissions, explained. He said this could discourage talented students from applying to schools that require it.

Powell participated in a committee in 2013 convened by The College Board, who administers the SAT, that recommended the institution of free school-day testing.

He noted many students from low-income families take advantage of free SAT testing offered during the school day. This enables those who might encounter difficulties taking standardized tests on a Saturday — when the SAT and ACT are traditionally offered — to avoid challenges such as finding transportation, taking time off from work or applying for a fee waiver.

“Given the significant growth in free school-day testing, it’s important to enable students from low-income families to take advantage of the tests already offered by their school districts and not place an undue burden on them to go in separately outside of normal school hours,” Powell said. “Our goal is that for any talented student interested in Brown, the application process is not a deterrent — and we don’t want this test to be a barrier to their application.”

Undergraduate applicants can still submit their SAT essay or ACT writing scores should they choose, Powell added. And the University also recommends that applicants submit a graded paper from a humanities or social sciences course as part of their application.

The shift in testing requirements is one of a wide range of efforts at Brown to ensure that financial considerations do not prevent talented students from applying to or enrolling at the University.

University of Chicago Joins Growing List of Colleges Not Requiring ACT or SAT

University of Chicago Main Quad
Photo Credit: Ndshankar via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 4.0)

The University of Chicago joins a growing list of colleges that will no longer require students to submit ACT or SAT scores as an admission requirement.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

A growing number, including DePaul University, have opted to stop requiring the SAT and ACT in their admissions process, saying the tests place an unfair cost and burden on low-income and minority students, and ultimately hinder efforts to broaden diversity on campus. But the trend has escaped the nation’s most selective universities.

Until now. The University of Chicago announced Thursday that it would no longer require applicants for the undergraduate college to submit standardized test scores.

While it will still allow applicants to submit their SAT or ACT scores, university officials said they would let prospective undergraduates send transcripts on their own and submit video introductions and nontraditional materials to supplement their applications.

“We were sending a message to students, with our own requirements, that one test basically identifies you,” said Jim Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions at U. of C. “Despite the fact that we would say testing is only one piece of the application, that’s the first thing a college asks you. We wanted to really take a look at all our requirements and make sure they were fair to every group, that everybody, anybody could aspire to a place like UChicago.”

Read the rest.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing states that there are over 1000 schools across the nation that do not require ACT or SAT for admissions. They report that half of the U.S. News “Top 100” liberal arts colleges are on their list of test-optional schools. So are a majority of all colleges and universities in New England and more than 50 percent in such states as Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“Studies show that an applicant’s high school record – grades plus course rigor – predicts undergraduate success better than any standardized exam. By going test-optional, colleges increase diversity without any loss in academic quality. Eliminating testing requirements is a ‘win-win’ for both students and schools,” Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director with the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, stated back in January when their list first topped 1000 schools.

“College and university leaders are sending a clear message,” Schaeffer added. “Test scores are not needed to make sound educational decisions. It’s time for K-12 policy makers to pay attention and back off their testing obsession for public schools.”

More Schools Drop SAT/ACT Essay Requirement For Admissions

Yale University in New Haven, CT.
Photo Credit: Adam Jones (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Some big news for high school seniors who plan on attending certain Ivy League schools, Yale University just announced they will no longer require students to take the SAT or ACT essay assessment as an admission requirement. They join Harvard University and Dartmouth College.

The Washington Post reports:

On Friday, Yale University said applicants will no longer be required to submit an essay score from the SAT or the ACT. The policy will take effect for rising high school seniors who seek to enter the university’s Class of 2023. Yale’s action comes weeks after Harvard University and Dartmouth College dropped the requirement.

In recent years many states, counties and cities have funded SAT and ACT testing during the school day in public schools, making the exams free for students. Sometimes, those testing programs include the optional essay sections, but sometimes they don’t. That produces a quandary for students who might be thinking about whether to apply to colleges that require the essay: Should they have to take the test all over again just to get an essay score?

Very few schools actually require this anyway, and the Washington Post noted that selective colleges require an essay within their admissions process.

A representative from Stanford University, which still requires the essay, noted the importance of writing.

Stanford’s dean of admission and financial aid, Richard Shaw, said he is reviewing the issue. “However, we should treasure writing as an important skill in life and it should be a major focus [of] K-12,” Shaw wrote in an email. “So the question becomes what is the alternative to assessing writing competency in the admissions process.”

Writing is a vital skill and writing instruction, which was weak before, has taken a hit during the Common Core era. Sandra Stotsky, who served on the Common Core validation committee and was the author of Massachusetts’ top-notch ELA standards that helped that state lead in K-12 education prior to Common Core, noted that the writing standards were not linked to appropriate reading standards.

Schools like Yale will have to deal with students educated under this system.

Read the rest of WaPo article.