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Not Readi for Prime Time

The College Board announced on Thursday that it was postponing a new eighth-grade assessment announced last fall. ReadiStep was conceived as a low-stakes assessment designed to provide teachers, students and parents feedback on a student’s readiness for challenging high school coursework that would prepare a student for college. The College Board claimed that the test was intended to help create a “college-going culture.”

It’s hard not to view this as an attempt to make a quick buck. Do we really need a new test to help demonstrate the importance of challenging coursework, or to figure out which students are ready for it? One of the legacies of No Child Left Behind, for better or worse, is a system of assessments from grades 3 through 8 that reflect state-specific curricular frameworks and standards. The incremental value of a national assessment such as ReadiStep beyond these state-specific assessments seems pretty modest. Any district or school that is paying attention should know what pattern of performance on local or state assessments predicts readiness for challenging high school and college curricular standards.

ReadiStep seemingly was in trouble from the moment it was announced last October. Sara Rimer’s article in the New York Times dryly reported that College Board officials were only able to cough up two educators from districts interested in ReadiStep, one of whom was a College Board trustee, and the other of whom helped to develop the assessment. She quoted Gaston Caperton, President of the College Board, and other Board officials as saying that their market research had found that well over 50% of the more than 1,000 schools and districts they had approached “had expressed strong interest in the new test.”

I think these schools and districts were just being polite to the powerful organization that administers the SAT, the widely-used college entrance examination. The College Board does a lot of good, but trying to manufacture demand for an unnecessary assessment wasn’t its finest moment.

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