A major reason why Common Core is a threat to school choice is that the aligned high-stakes tests may drive curriculum choices for public and private schools as well as home education programs. Prospective college students face competitive entrance requirements and now the standard admission tests – the SAT and ACT – are aligned to Common Core. It is not surprising that top private schools and ambitious homeschoolers may be pressured to adopt these controversial standards to appeal to top universities.
As of March 2016 the SAT converted to Common Core (aka College and Career Readiness) standards; the ACT is already closely aligned. The change has been harshly criticized because Common Core is focused on high school standards and not considered a predictive measure of college success. Consequently, more colleges are abandoning these traditional admission exams.
There are two alternative tests emerging to evade Common Core’s pressures to conform.
The first one, launched in June, is the Classic Learning Test (CLT) which emphasizes classic literature and history of Western civilization. Exams are administered several times in the year at regional testing centers. Results are available in a week; much faster than the SAT and ACT. This test has three sections: verbal reasoning, grammar/writing, and quantitative reasoning. The list of colleges accepting the CLT is growing steadily including Patrick Henry College, St. John’s College, and Benedictine College. To promote the new test, they are hosting a competition with awards going to the first students to score a perfect 120.
A second alternative exam, the Vector Assessment of Readiness for College (ARC), began beta testing in spring and is gaining support in the homeschool community. In addition to not being aligned with Common Core, ARC is not a timed test so it may be more friendly to students with special needs or test anxiety. Ms. Julie West, their spokesman, said the following about the new exam:
“Our assessment evaluates math skills through calculus, contains science through chemistry and physics, and contains questions regarding grammar and classic literature.”
Students who do not follow Common Core standards may also go test optional when applying for college. More and more universities including top-named schools such as George Washington University, Bryant University, Columbia College, Brandeis University, Lewis & Clark College, and Roger Williams University allow students to skip the SAT or ACT in favor of completing an additional essay question or two. If a student is considering this option, it is best to check directly with the institution’s admission office or website for details. For an updated and comprehensive list, refer to FairTest.org.
These alternatives are good market-driven solutions to alleviate pressures to adopt Common Core standards and encourage more educational diversity particularly at the high school level.