Beginning with the 2016-17 school year in Illinois, the SAT college entrance exam will replace the widely criticized Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers accountability exams at the high school level. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher is director of the Office of Community College Research and Leadership, and a professor of higher education/community college leadership at the University of Illinois. Zamani-Gallaher discussed the potential impact of this policy change with News Bureau education editor Sharita Forrest.
When announcing the new policy, the state superintendent of education said providing the SAT for free would promote equity in higher education. Aside from equity, what may have prompted this policy change?
Part of the rationale to move away from PARCC testing for Illinois high school juniors was student performance. Since scores were not as high as expected on the PARCC exams in 2015 and 2016, the PARCC test was dropped at the high school level.
This is not surprising, as other states have made the test optional or ditched their homegrown assessments. Connecticut decided to mandate the SAT for 11th-graders when students weren’t scoring well on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
Connecticut’s fix was dropping the SBA. Illinois is apparently following suit, but substituting the SAT for the PARCC exam does not address why students were not doing well on the PARCC exam to begin with.
The SAT has been criticized for racial, cultural and gender bias. Is making the SAT compulsory likely to increase – or decrease – the numbers of marginalized students who proceed to college?
There are racial and ethnic gaps with the SAT scores. Asian-American students outperform all other groups, followed by white, Latino and African-American students.
The College Board overhauled the SAT recently – the essay portion in particular – because of equity gaps and concerns about bias related to vocabulary.
While SAT scores don’t tell us a lot about college readiness, they do tell us which demographic groups fare well on the test – students from higher income backgrounds and those whose parents have higher levels of educational attainment score better on the SAT.
Students from these backgrounds are more likely to be socialized to test taking or college going, to have access to preparatory courses and take the Preliminary SAT one or more times.
We need to address these disparities. I do not expect that mandating the SAT for high school juniors will foster equitable student outcomes or significantly boost college attendance.
President Obama, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders are proposing tuition-free community colleges or state universities. Will eliminating tuition at these institutions help democratize higher education?
While providing free tuition is great, it doesn’t close the gaps that keep disadvantaged students from attending college. There are numerous costs and challenges associated with college attendance, such as transportation, housing and child care for students who have children.
Even if community college tuition were free, many lower-income students could not cover the expected family contribution. While free tuition is a move in the right direction, many other factors must be considered.
Some critics of tuition-free community college programs have raised concerns it will create stratification and academic undermatching – with only less affluent students attending community colleges, even when they are strong academic performers who could attend more selective institutions. Do you foresee such a problem?
No, I don’t. I’m not convinced that making community colleges tuition-free is going to push students into academic undermatching.
It also depends on your definition of “academic match.” Students are savvy consumers and will consider financial and social factors when deciding if a school is a match for them.
Say a first-generation student from a working-class family has the academic record to attend a selective university but even with a scholarship cannot close the cost gap; one could argue that is undermatching. Or what if a student wants to stay close to home, doesn’t like the campus climate or can’t picture himself there, despite a good financial aid package?
Community colleges are rich educational environments with honors societies, honors programs and rigorous high-tech programs. Therefore, these are places where high-achieving students can thrive and not experience undermatching.
Community colleges have sometimes been perceived as less challenging or less prestigious institutions. Is that perception changing?
As someone who studies community colleges, I can appreciate that the profile of two-year institutions has been raised in recent years, in part by Obama’s targeting of community colleges as key providers of postsecondary education. Obama’s America’s College Promise program, which would make community college education universal, is a good illustration of the administration’s regard for two-year colleges.
Fifteen years ago, when I asked people what came to mind when I mentioned community colleges, they’d respond with deficit language such as “second rate,” “second choice” or “where you go to be remediated for real college.”
Now, I hear more positive terms such as “accessible,” “high-demand” and “affordable.”