Indiana has chosen the SAT as the high school exam students will take as part of the transition to new graduation requirements. The change is happening as more colleges and universities across the country adopt test-optional policies for admissions.
Hoosier high schoolers will take the SAT starting in the spring of 2022, and scores will be used to evaluate schools' quality. Lawmakers made the change in 2018 as part of a bill to change Indiana's diploma structure to align with federal accountability, and to align the high school exam with new graduation requirements approved by the state board.
The legislation instructed the state to select a nationally recognized college entrance exam, like the SAT or ACT, to take the place of end of course assessments.
But concerns about the SAT or ACT creating access barriers for students applying for college have also prompted many universities to rely less on those scores for admissions. In Indiana, that includes Indiana University, Ball State University and the governor's alma mater Hanover college, among others. Even more schools have followed suit in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, either temporarily or permanently adopting similar "test-optional" policies.
Bob Schaeffer is the interim executive director of FairTest, an advocacy center critical of standardized tests. He says colleges and universities have moved away from relying on the test scores for admissions to enhance diversity and access on their campuses.
And when it comes to high schools, he says the SAT isn't designed for accountability and could have a harmful impact on schools' priorities.
"The problem is the SAT has never been validated as a tool for measuring high school academic quality, it's not necessarily linked to the high school curriculum in any particular state."
Scores from college entrance exams illustrate lingering opportunity gaps for low-income students, English learners, and students of color. According to results on the College Board website from 2019, only 19 percent of Black and Native American SAT takers in Indiana met college ready "benchmarks" for both reading and writing as well as math, compared to the 35 percent of white test takers who met both.
That disparity, he says, is why he worries using those scores for school ratings will hurt communities with limited resources and funding.
"The test itself is a measure of accumulated opportunity and privilege, not necessarily academic mastery," he says.
According to Education Week, Indiana joins 12 other states who already use either the SAT or ACT for school accountability measures.