Evaluation shows number of students not taking SAT, ACT or AP exams

Alison Yin for EdSource TodayAlison Yin for EdSource TodayNo students are taking SAT, ACT or Advanced Placement exams in 14 percent of California’s high schools, a surprising statistic for the committee considering whether to incorporate those measures into the Academic Performance Index for schools.
Among alternative high schools serving at-risk populations, the number of students forgoing the tests is even higher – nearly 80 percent of alternative schools don’t have a single student who takes the college admission tests or AP exams.
The data was presented Tuesday at a meeting of the Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee. The committee is trying to determine the best way to measure how well schools are preparing students to succeed in college and careers and how to incorporate those measures into a revised API, as required by a 2012 state law. The committee, which meets again in August, will make a recommendation to the State Board of Education on how best to meet the requirements of the law.
The California Department of Education provided a breakdown of test-taking behaviors among California high school students as part of a discussion of whether SAT, ACT and AP exam scores are effective measures to include in a new API scoring system.
“It’s not a high percentage, but there were more schools than we would have expected that didn’t have any students taking the ACT, SAT or AP courses,” said Keric Ashley, director of the analysis, measurement and accountability department at the education department who is working with the committee. “We want to look more deeply into why that would be.”
The numbers are based on an analysis of all schools with enrollment data for grades 11 and 12. Among 2,534 traditional high schools with available data, 356 schools did not report any students taking the SAT, ACT or AP exams in 2012-13. Rural schools and schools with high numbers of low-income students were more likely to have students not taking the tests than schools in suburban areas, according to the data.
Among alternative schools, which serve at-risk or highly mobile students, 592 out of 757 schools did not have any students taking the exams.
State officials will present a more detailed analysis at a future committee meeting to see what’s behind the numbers.
Still, it is unlikely the committee will focus solely on those three exams as an isolated measure of school success, Ashley said. The committee is considering a model that would provide multiple measures of how well schools are preparing students. The test scores are one possible factor that could be weighed, but other factors could include the number of students who complete career pathway programs and graduate with a certificate in a career field.
Some schools that don’t report large numbers of students taking the college entrance and Advance Placement exams could be offering numerous career programs instead.
“That’s the advantage of having a methodology like this,” Ashley said, adding that it allows for a number of ways for schools to be evaluated.
The data revealed other test taking patterns as well:
Forty-three percent of students who graduated in 2012-13 took at least one of the three tests – SAT, ACT or AP exam.
The lowest participation was among English learners (21 percent), American-Indian students (27 percent), and low-income, African-American and Latino students, which each had a participation rate of 34 percent.
There is significant overlap among students who took the college admissions exams, with 85 percent of students who took the SAT also taking the ACT; 86 percent of ACT test takers also took the SAT.
Student success on the tests varied greatly. Only 41 percent of students who took the SAT achieved a score of 1550 out of a possible 2400, one of the established benchmarks for college success, and 57 percent achieved a score of 21 out of a possible 36 on the ACT. Yet 74 percent of students who took AP exams passed with a 3 or higher on at least one test.
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