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Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)
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Assemblyman O’Donnell Combats College Admissions Cheating by Allowing Students to Take Tests at School

Bill could replace state-mandated aptitude test with SAT, ACT

By Matthew Keys, March 28, 2019 7:31 am

Following the recent college admissions scandal, a California lawmaker is renewing a push to allow school districts to replace certain standardized tests given to high schoolers with free versions of a national aptitude test used by many colleges and universities as part of the admissions screening process.

“A growing body of evidence shows that offering a college entrance exam, like the SAT or ACT, at no cost to students during the school day propels more students into college,” Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) said in a statement. “Administering the tests at school sites also helps ensure a secure environment to combat cheating.”

Assembly Bill 751 would give local school districts the discretion of replacing the current statewide test, known as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), with a version of a nationally-recognized aptitude test like the SAT or ACT.

Under the bill, the alternative test would be selected by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. Districts would then be given the choice of offering the CAASPP or alternative assessment test to their 11th grade students.

The bill does not explicitly call out the SAT or ACT as an alternative assessment test, but  O’Donnell hopes the proposed legislation he authored will open the door for school districts to provide free versions of either the SAT or ACT test. O’Donnell is a teacher and Chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

If this initiative sounds familiar, it’s because O’Donnell has tried it before: An identical version of his proposed legislation cleared both the Assembly and Senate before reaching then Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Brown vetoed it, saying he preferred the University of California and California State University systems use results from the current CAASPP assessment, known as the “Smarter Balance” test, during their admissions process.

O’Donnell is hoping to have more success under a different governor, and there may be some traction for it following a national college admissions scandal in which dozens parents allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to an education consulting company in order to secure preferred placement at several prestigious colleges and universities.

Some school districts in the state already offer free versions of the SAT or ACT to their high school students at district expense. O’Donnell has said his proposed legislation could make it easier both on districts and on students by allowing a nationally-recognized assessment test to be offered during the week when classroom instruction would normally take place anyway.

Supporters also say it could help level the playing field by allowing students with financial obstacles to take the test alongside their peers, some of whom may be able to afford to take the test over and over again.

By re-introducing the bill, O’Donnell is rebuking calls from some state education officials who asked him to hold off on exploring the idea again in order to better study the admissions process at UC and CSU schools. Michael Kirst, the President of the California State Board of Education, was one of Brown’s advisors in the moments leading up to the governor’s veto during O’Donnell’s previous attempt.

Kirst told the education news website EdSource.org last year that exploring the idea of allowing UC and CSU schools to use results from the Smarter Balance test might be a better approach because those tests already align with federal assessment requirement. By changing the system to allow SAT or ACT tests, California education officials would have to prove to their federal counterparts that those tests align with Common Core standards currently taught in California schools.

O’Donnell told EdSource even if schools wanted to switch to the Smarter Balanced approach, it could take years for them to integrate those scores into their admissions processes.

“AB 751 removes obstacles to college attendance for students who may not otherwise have access to the exam or take it on their own. The current scandal makes the case for AB 751 by ensuring all students have access to test preparation and the test is administered in a secure environment,” said O’Donnell. “This bill is about equity and opportunity.”

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