Lawmakers Consider Study of Alternatives to SAT

State education leaders may study replacing the use of the SAT and ACT in college admissions with the state’s end-of-course tests.

House Bill 1246 would direct the UNC Board of Governors to cooperate with the State Board of Education and the State Board of Community Colleges, to study measures used to make admissions, placement, and advanced placement decisions about incoming freshmen at UNC schools.

“In the study, particular emphasis shall be focused on whether or not to eliminate or reduce the emphasis place on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and ACT Assessment for North Carolina students as a mandatory university admissions measure and instead incorporating the State’s end-of-course testing into admissions, placement, and advanced placement decisions,” the bill reads.

The bill also directs the Board of Governors to consider other methods for comparing the academic performance of nonresident applicants who don’t take the State’s end-of-course testing with resident applicants who have those scores.

“In my opinion, when you have a standard course of study being taught in K-12 that doesn’t come close to what is required on the SAT. Then you need to change something,” said Rep. Gene Arnold, the bill’s sponsor. “What we have learned is that Standard Course of study is a critical thinking test. We don’t teach to the SAT. We felt it was important to look at our requirement and to see what we were doing in K-12.”

Arnold maintains that the purpose of the bill is not to eliminate the SAT altogether. “What we are looking at with the state’s ABCs testing and accountability program is that we are now testing at grades three, five, eight, and high school,” he said. “Those tests and the high school exit exam, end- of-course tests, and writing test – those test could be used and more emphasis based on those things than on the SAT.”

Arnold’s efforts may be tied to similar efforts in California, where higher education leaders are looking at alternatives to the SAT. In its efforts, California has consulted with the Southern Regional Education Board, an Atlanta-based non-profit education policy group. Arnold has talked to the same group.

“What [California] is considering right now is shifting to end-of-course testing,” said Jim Watts, SREB’s Vice President for State Services. North Carolina’s testing and accountability program is one model that California as looked at, he said.

The bill sailed through the House of Representatives but garnered questions from member of a Senate education committee last week.

“The problem is that the bill does more than what it says it does,” said Sen. Wib Gulley, D-Durham, referring to parts of the bill that say the study commission “shall” develop a plan. We always want to keep open the possibility that the study commission won’t recommend change, he said.

Committee members have appointed a subcommittee to look at the bill.

“I’m not sure whether we would favor discontinuing it altogether,” said Clifton Metcalf, Associate Vice President for State Government Affairs for UNC. “There seems to be an impression among some folks that it [the SAT] is the principal factor [in admissions] and it isn’t,”

“I haven’t heard of a committee giving more than 20 percent concern to it,” he said, adding that in many cases scores are used to break ties among otherwise equally qualified students. “We would want to be able to keep that ability in evaluating students,” he said.