What Gets Tested Gets Taught: Cautions for Using College Admissions Tests in State Accountability Systems

Tuesday, March 13, 2018Printer-friendly version

Download a PDF of the brief here.

Using a college admissions test as the statewide summative assessment is an attractive but risky option for some policymakers and parents. These assessments are used for admissions by nearly all higher education institutions, are shorter in length than most state-designed and consortia assessments, have brand name recognition, and are known for predicting first-year college performance. However, notwithstanding their appeal and instrumental value for college admissions, neither the ACT nor College Board, the developer of the SAT, developed these tests as measures of how well students are meeting state mathematics and English language arts (ELA) standards, which is the primary purpose of state accountability tests. When they are used as a state’s mathematics and ELA tests — when they “count” for schools, educators, and students — there is the greatest likelihood that they will drive classroom instruction more than state standards do. This brief looks across the current evidence available on the two primary college admissions tests in order to provide state leaders and policymakers with the information they must consider in selecting high school assessments. The primary issue at hand is the alignment of college admissions tests, the ACT and SAT, to states’ college- and career-ready standards.