The Times Editorial Board’s opposition to Assembly Bill 1951, which would allow school districts to swap the state proficiency exams for 11th graders for the SAT or ACT test instead, is misguided. This bill, currently awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, is an opportunity for California to give greater control to local school districts and for students of all backgrounds to have a better chance at succeeding on the SAT, an exam already used by many colleges to help determine readiness for admissions.
Earlier this month, the editorial board opposed legislation that would have forced school districts to delay start times until after 8:30 a.m. In that instance, the board felt that local control trumped Sacramento’s wish to dictate the “minutiae” of school operations. Brown wisely concurred by vetoing that legislation.
So why the different standard for AB 1951, a bill that proposes to increase local control? Authored by teacher and Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), the bill would allow all high school juniors the opportunity to take the SAT for free. The bill passed both houses of the California Legislature overwhelmingly, and both candidates for state superintendent of public instruction have indicated their strong support.
Here in the Long Beach Unified School District, California’s third largest, about 1,000 more high school students have met minimum California State University academic requirements for admission compared to two years ago. That’s largely because so many more of our students now take the SAT — and this is happening because our school district now offers the exam for free, and students can take it during the school day.
With two-thirds of our families unable to afford school meals, a free SAT opens up opportunities for students who may not have previously considered themselves to be college material. Long Beach emphasizes preparing all students to graduate college and career ready. While the state does not require testing for students in grades 9 and 10, Long Beach does. All students at those levels take the PSAT, and they know they will sit for the SAT in 11th grade, and at no charge.
We’ve found that our students’ performance on the SAT correlates closely with their performance on the state’s 11th-grade Smarter Balanced assessments. This is one reason states like Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine and Michigan already have received the federal government’s blessing to administer the SAT as part of their state-adopted assessment program.
If more students are able to take a college admissions test at no cost during the school day, more underrepresented students can be connected directly to scholarships, personalized test practice tools and college application fee waivers, removing historic barriers to higher education.
We in Long Beach have managed to give both the SAT and the Smarter Balanced assessments in 11th grade, but test fatigue is causing undue angst about these and other exams for 11th graders and their teachers. And, while Smarter Balanced works well in the earlier grades, the SAT is the more practical exam for 11th graders. Smarter Balanced provides college-readiness data informing course placement for California State University schools, but the SAT can also be used for course placement and is accepted much more broadly by more than 2,400 colleges and universities, including CSU, for admission purposes.
That’s why our high school students and parents see far greater value and relevance in taking the SAT.
Christopher J. Steinhauser is superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District. He was appointed this year to the California State University Board of Trustees.