(Forbes) By Justin Haskins–
In December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) swept through Congress, largely unopposed by leaders on both sides of the aisle. It is perhaps the only piece of legislation during Pres. Barack Obama’s time in office that appears to have pleased politicians of every persuasion. Many Democrats praised ESSA as a significant enhancement over the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act that finally enshrines into law a mandate for “college and career-ready” education standards. Republicans, notably Tenn. Sen. Lamar Alexander praised the legislation for allegedly shifting power back to state and local governments eager to avoid the increased control hoisted upon them by the Department of Education’s Common Core State Standards.
However, decades from now, ESSA may be remembered best as the catalyst that sparked a movement to shift away from the well-established SAT and ACT college admissions tests—the two standardized assessments that have dominated the educational landscape for decades.
ESSA, which is set to begin during the 2017–18 school year, requires states to conduct standardized testing for students in grades 3 through 8 and again in high school. Local school districts who have received permission from the state may choose to use either the SAT or ACT tests to fulfill the high school testing requirement. In the minds of many, this lifts a significant burden off of state and local education officials to create for themselves new standardized tests, which can often cost millions of dollars and several years to develop and implement.
Plans are already in place for every public high school to require SAT testing in six states: Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Michigan and New Hampshire. In 15 states, the ACT will be used to test all 11th grade students attending a public school.
But for many parents, government officials and advocacy groups, the promotion of SAT and ACT testing is unacceptable because of recent changes planned or already implemented that have moved both tests closer to the highly criticized Common Core standards. In fact, the so-called architect of Common Core, David Coleman, is now the CEO of College Board, which produces and operates the SAT.
EdSurge reports the transition toward Common Core has been clear: “The SAT has gone through a redesign for debut in March, and according to Jake Firman, director of Education Technology at DSST Public Schools, this newer version of the SAT ‘has made a very focused effort alignment to Common Core.’”
Among the specific content-related complaints many parents and educators have of the Common Core State Standards, are the move away from classical literature toward more “technical” writing and the rejection of many traditional Western views of history, political philosophy and economics.
For states uninterested in adopting the largely Common Core-aligned ACT or SAT, there are only two remaining options. The first is to develop and implement their own standardized tests, which, as many states learned when Common Core was at its height of popularity, can be incredibly costly. One study estimated Common Core would cost the 45 states that signed up under a CC initiative and the District of Columbia $10 billion in start-up costs and then as much as $800 million per year for seven years.
The second option is to find another standardized test option that, unlike Common Core-aligned tests, won’t require a significant move away from well-established educational materials. One such option is the soon-to-be-released Vector Assessment of Readiness for College (Vector ARC).
Vector ARC markets itself as a cheaper, better alternative to the SAT and ACT, and its creators claim it will only test students on the information they actually need to be successful in college and later in life, focusing heavily on the classical Western educational standards of the past. In another words, students won’t need to be in a classroom that teaches to a novel, highly technical test in order to successful. If students have the skills that have been considered essential for centuries in Western nations, they will do well on the Vector ARC test.
“At Vector A.R.C. we believe every student should be afforded a fair opportunity at college acceptance,” says Vector ARC on its website. “We don’t think students should be disadvantaged for not having studied in alignment with the Common Core State Standards. By offering an alternative assessment to both SAT and ACT, students who have selected an education not based on Common Core, will no longer be penalized in their college applications by being forced to take a test that aligns with [the Common Core State Standards].”
The hype surrounding Vector ARC has been growing as anti-Common Core parents, teachers, and education advocates seek alternatives. This puts ACT and SAT in a precarious situation. They have already tied their fates to Common Core in the expectation that states everywhere would be adopting it. But the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act cracked the door open for other businesses, such as Vector ARC, looking to enter the college entrance exam marketplace as an alternative for those states who won’t stand for Common Core.
When ACT and SAT chose to hitch its horse to the Common Core wagon, they may have doomed their futures in numerous states across the country. Without a significant reversal in policy, now-unknown alternative college entrance exams could rise to prominence faster than any test has previously been able to do in the history of U.S. education.