By Doug Martin
In yet another sneak attack on Indiana public education and communities, the State Board of Education’s Graduation Pathways Panel, in a move to eliminate the abusive and redundant end-of-course assessments, “has recommended that students take the SAT, ACT or a similar college entrance exam instead” in order to finish high school, a move which would sit well with Hoosier Republican lawmaker and past Indiana State Board of Education member, Todd Huston, who is now Senior Vice President of State and District Partnerships at the College Board— the owner of SAT.
Concerning the SAT recommendation, the South Bend Tribune notes: “The change was introduced to the draft proposal less than a day before the panel voted to send it to the state Board of Education. While other parts of the plan have been available for public comment for weeks, few schools, teachers or families have been able to give input about the exam requirement change.” The State Board will vote next month on new graduation requirements, and state lawmakers “would then codify the plan in the 2018 session.” The new recommendations, if approved, will start with the class of 2023.
Since the U.S. Department of Education has declared that “Indiana will no longer be able to include students who earn the general diploma in calculating school graduation rates,” 30 percent of those being special needs students, the State Board, actually, is adding another assault by proposing an exam which will weaken schools’ graduation passing rates and prime them for possible takeover by charter school operators.
Not only is Huston paid handsomely by the College Board—for which he is listed as a lobbyist in New York—raking in $325,433 in the period from July 1, 2013 to June 31, 2014, with $47,000 listed as additional compensation from the organization and other related organizations, he promotes Silicon Valley’s online future-of-schools agenda by convincing schools to use “the SAT Suite of Assessments to give students a chance to show their best work and get better results with tools like Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy®,” a tool which now has the blessing of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, whose Zuckerberg Initiative, in partnership with the College Board, seeks to give “students in lower-income communities and rural areas greater access to college pathway advisors and SAT prep mediums like Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy.
Huston is also the past Indiana Charter School Board member who, after leaving his job as Tony Bennett’s chief of staff, went back to his old job with Cisco Systems. Bennett, in turn, then used $1.7 million of state money to purchase video-conferencing equipment from Cisco which wasn't used. Some of the equipment was never even delivered.
Huston went to work for the College Board in October 2012 , and Lewis Ferebee, the Indianapolis Public Schools supt., has been a member of the College Board’s board of trustees since November 2015.
In 2017, the College Board’s board of trustees was highly criticized by nonprofit governance experts for not doing anything to rein in “the College Board, which had about $77 million in annual profit and $916 million in revenue in 2015” and a whole slew of problems in 2016. As Reuters notes in 2016, there were “cheating rings in Asia that exploit security weaknesses in the SAT and enable some students to gain unfair advantages on the exam.” In 2016, a “massive security breach” exposed around 400 questions “for upcoming SATs,” and College Board members knew that a redesigned test “was overloaded with wordy math questions, a problem that handicaps non-native English speakers and reinforces race and income disparities that Coleman has vowed to diminish.” Lloyd Thacker, from the Education Conservancy, asked “What is the mechanism that holds them accountable? I’m scratching my head. There doesn’t seem to be a countervailing voice here at all.” Reuters found that many trustees were sent an email in 2015 telling them not to do interviews with the news outlet concerning the SAT.
In July 2017, San Diego's school board took legal action against the College Board “after the Advanced Placement tests of more than 500 of the city's high school students were declared invalid because their seats were too close together.” The College Board didn’t notify Scripps Ranch High, where the test was given, about its new seating arrangement protocol, according to the school, “until two days before the testing.”
The College Board has a history of questionable practices. In 2008, it settled with New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo’s office after an investigation found that the College Board was running a kickback scheme where “the College Board, which developed and marketed numerous products and services related to student financial assistance, gave significant discounts on those products and services to certain colleges which agreed to place the College Board's loans on their 'preferred lender' list. This effectively directed students towards loans that might not be the best or least expensive option for them." The College Board “is no longer a lender,” for other unrelated reasons, “although it continues to provide financial aid advisement services to students,” ABC News wrote at the time.
The College Board, too, came under fire for not giving better oversight when a cheating scandal in New York in 2011 led lawmakers to ask questions, and in June 2015, a printing error which gave some SAT takers extra time to finish sections of the test involved 487,000 students.
The College Board (and the makers of ACT) sell your children’s data freely. As the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy’s Rachael Stickland and Leonie Haimson write, students, while taking the SAT, may be asked to hand over personal information (which may include social security number, “grade point average, religious affiliation, ethnicity, family income, interests, citizenship, disabilities and more”) on an opt-in questionnaire and click a box which says they agree to be a part of the College Board’s Student Search Service. The College Board and ACT then sell some of the information to colleges and universities, which can use the data against students applying for admission.
According to recent information on the College Board website, the social security numbers, disability information, grades, scores, and parental income are off limits, but POLITICO in 2014 wrote that these marketed "profiles can include information about the students’ grades and academic coursework — and also religion, ethnicity, citizenship status and expected need for financial aid in college. The ACT also lets customers filter student profiles by family income, parents’ education levels and student disabilities."
POLITICO also stated that a woman from Illinois sued both the College Board and ACT for selling her personal information, but the case was dropped when it was discovered that the woman "had never even taken a College Board exam".
In 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago rejected another lawsuit against the College Board and ACT (which a federal judge had thrown out earlier) which sought damages for the selling of personal information which may have included "name, address, sex, birthdate, school, grade level, ethnic group, email address, and intended college major." EdWeek summed up the verdict by writing that “The court said the plaintiffs could not show that the test organizations' profiting from their information deprived them of any economic value of that information.”
Although the College Board would not disclose how much it makes from such information, Stickland and Haimson, using POLITICO figures, estimate that “ACT’s profits generated from selling student profiles were approximately $15 million in 2012.” The College Board, according to information on its website, now sells student personal information at 43 cents per name.
A lot of Indiana taxpayer money will be wasted on SAT feesWeddlestate education department has estimated a $5 million cost for every high school student to take the SAT or ACT.” Although the actual cost of the changes being proposed is unknown, “the panel avoided answering concerns from local districts about the fiscal impact.” Bob Behning “suggested state agencies would put together budget requests for the General Assembly if additional funds are required.”
As Furman University education professor and researcher Paul Thomas writes concerning the SAT in South Carolina schools in his “New SAT, but same old problems” piece published on October 22 2017, “SAT average scores should never be used to rank schools, districts, or states in terms of academic quality; this caution, in fact, comes from the College Board itself.” Regardless of what promoters say of the new and supposedly approved SAT, the research still shows that “High-stakes test scores are mostly markers for race, social class, and gender; and are in only small ways reflections of achievement. Most standardized test data are 60 percent or more correlated with factors outside the schools, teachers, and students,” Thomas writes. Better yet, as Thomas sums up, “we need the political will to address crippling social issues related to food insecurity, stable work and housing, and healthcare, but we also need the political will to stop changing standards and tests every few years and, instead, confront directly the inequities of our schools (such as tracking and teacher assignments) that mirror the inequities of our communities.”