Latest posts by Robert Holland (see all)
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Decades from now, education historians may observe Common Core (CC) provoked a wave of activism that resulted in decentralizing U.S. education.
That was not what the power elites intended when they concocted standards and assessments intended to apply to all students, teachers, and schools. Their objective was centralization. But their arrogance has activated a hornets’ nest of angry parents intent on reclaiming control over their children’s schooling.
The revolt is going beyond the widespread opt-outs from federally mandated Common Core-linked testing. Behind the scenes, hard work is proceeding on long-dreamed-of alternatives to the College Board’s century-old dominance of college-entrance testing. Impetus for that came when a key member of the Common Core cabal, testing consultant David Coleman, went straightway from writing the CC English standards to heading up the College Board on an explicit vow to align its SAT with Common Core.
Testing a New Test
Now, with the start of 2016 SAT testing, that has happened. However, the Vector Assessment of Readiness for College (ARC)—a budding SAT alternative—is happening, too. For four years, remarked company spokesman Julie West, “We spent a great deal of time researching entrance exams dating back generations, speaking with professors, retired educators, and professionals. Questions were developed, submitted, and reviewed. Sample questions were also sent to outside evaluators.”
ARC beta testing is underway, most recently at the Great Homeschooling Convention in Cincinnati during the first weekend of April. Homeschool families are a natural constituency because linking the SAT and other standardized tests to a de facto national curriculum places homeschoolers’ hard-won freedom from statist overreach and offensive standards in grave peril, but the ARC alternative also may prove to be useful for private and parochial schools, as well as public schools in states not plugged in to Common Core.
“Because the homeschool community is the only sector that has not experienced dramatic shifts in standards or curriculum over the past several years, we have focused on them during beta,” said West. “However, any student with an SAT/ACT or PSAT score may participate in beta testing.
“Because our assessment evaluates math skills through calculus, contains science through chemistry and physics, and contains questions regarding grammar and classic literature, we believe high-achieving students from private and public schools will also benefit from ARC,” said West. “Because we will not permit super scoring, much of the socioeconomic bias has been addressed. Finally, because we are not a timed test, those with special-needs students have been excited to learn about ARC.”
A Drive to Feed Students Substance
Super scoring is a dubious practice whereby students can take their highest scores from multiple SAT tests and piece them into one inflated outcome. Eliminating that kind of gaming would be a solid initial accomplishment for Vector ARC.
The Vector team states its assessment will “assess both proficiency of subject matter as well as overall cognitive abilities,” thus maximizing students’ opportunities “to present their strengths.”
At least one other alternative to the entrance-exam monolith is already available, offered through the Annapolis-based Classic Learning Initiatives, which started in 2015. Administered online at testing centers, the two-hour Classic Learning Test (CLT) draws on the works of some of the greatest minds in Western tradition, thinkers of the caliber of C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, G.K. Chesterton, Martin Luther King Jr., Plato, and Socrates. Several renowned liberal arts colleges, including St. John’s and Thomas Aquinas, accept CLT scores as an alternative to the SAT or ACT.
Alternatives to the powerhouse College Board, founded in 1900, have been a long time coming. The ACT became one such alternative in November 1959, and in 2011, it actually edged out the SAT in total test-takers. Richard Innes, an education analyst at the Bluegrass Institute, says some officials at ACT still believe its “traditional mission is to provide a quality college readiness test that is useful to college admissions offices.” However, Innes also said ACT’s recent joint venture with Pearson Publishing to create a Common Core-type test called Aspire appears to have introduced “mission confusion” at the company.
Then there is the freshly revised federal education law that lets school boards use the SAT and ACT as their federally mandated annual tests, even for students who don’t plan to go to college, saving money for local school districts and ensuring these education-testing giants have continuous access to a $700-million-per-year market. With big education and big testing continuing to feed off each other, the yearning for individualized alternatives is likely to grow.