California districts increasingly embracing free college entrance exams
- In California, 22 districts offered the SAT for free in the 2016-17 school year, while another six districts and 10 charter networks and Catholic schools offered the ACT — significant increases over prior years, EdSource reports.
- Among the districts and charters involved are major names including Santa Ana, Long Beach, Fresno, San Jose, Oakland and Aspire Public Schools, and offering the exams for free during the school day has led to a sharp uptick in the number of students taking them, as well as expressed aspirations to attend college.
- While California doesn't track whether students who took the exams continue on to college, EdSource notes that research from Michigan published in the journal Education Finance and Policy suggested that state- or district-funded ACT testing boosted enrollment 2% in general and 6% among students in high-poverty schools.
EdSource also notes additional College Board research from Maine, showing a 10% increase in college attendance by students who otherwise wouldn't have taken the SAT, which further demonstrates the value of states and districts footing the bill for college entrance exams. While the exams can cost as much as $60 if an essay is included, districts can also negotiate per-student discounts. And with some states opting to use either exam as their annual standardized assessment, the investment can be a small price to pay if it results in students who never planned to attend college receiving offers from institutions that might change their minds, as Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, suggested to the New York Times in 2015.
Of course, there are also a number of schools, like Virginia Commonwealth University, that have moved away from the use of standardized exam scores in admissions decisions in recent years, expressing that metrics like GPAs were a better indicator of college success with less inherent socioeconomic biases.
In any case, offering the exams to all students as a regular course of action can help to address those biases, opening the possibility of higher ed to more students while — as a result of the exams' intended purpose of measuring college readiness — giving districts and states a better idea of just how well their students are prepared on average.
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