Across the Street column: Virus affecting school testing

Joyce Rankin
Joyce Rankin

Last month I said I would confront the “Reading Wars,” the debate over the best way to teach our children to read. Since then, we’ve had unexpected disruptions in education because of the coronavirus. I’ll write about the reading wars later. Right now, I’m getting a lot of interest in how the national emergency is affecting high stakes testing at the end of the year. The dates for the College Board SAT and CMAS (Colorado Measurement of Academic Skills) are uncertain in many school districts.

The CMAS tests are taken in multiple grades in various subject areas; these tests, along with the SAT, are known as “summative” tests. They sum up everything you’ve learned to that point. The SAT is administered in 11th grade and is considered a critical examination for entering college. There are two sections to the SAT, one is English language arts or evidence-based reading and writing (ERBW), and the other is math. There are also practice SATs (PSAT) taken in ninth and 10th grade to prepare students in the type of problems they will encounter on the SAT. The PSATs are used as practice tests and can help students understand what they need to work on to do well on the 11th-grade test. All three of these tests are aligned with the Colorado State Standards and are objective indications of how well high school students are achieving academically.

At the March Board of Education meeting, the members were briefed on the different levels and associated cut-points of test scores for the SAT. They should predict success in the first year of college. Each of the English language arts and math tests have a total point value of 800. If a student scored the most points on each test, the combined score would be 1,600. After stakeholder meetings and analysis at the Colorado Department of Education, it was determined that a student scoring 480-800 on the English language arts test would have a 75% likelihood of getting a C or better in a first semester, credit-bearing course in college. In the math portion, a comparable score would be 530-800.

The College Board’s annual report for 2019 states that the average math score of those taking the SAT was 528, and the average evidence-based reading and writing score was 531, for a combined total score of 1,059. Therefore 1,059 was the combined average score. Frequently Asked Questions and other information relating to the SAT is available on the C2education website.

I’ve given you a high-level overview of the SAT. I have concerns about the testing schedule, not only for the SAT but also for the CMAS end of year assessments. The testing schedules have been set for a long time. However, COVID-19 has caused some testing sites and schools to close. When and how will the students be able to take the tests so crucial to college and career readiness? Any answer would be outdated by the time you read this article. My advice is to check on local school and district websites. The Department of Education will also keep up-to-date information posted on its website when it is available, These are your best resources, and please keep in mind that everyone is working hard during these challenging times of uncertainty.

Joyce Rankin is a member of the State Board of Education. The Department of Education is located across the street from the Capitol. “Across the Street” will appear monthly.

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