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College Board Unveils Controversial New Test for Middle-school Students

The College Board on Wednesday unveiled a new test for middle-school students to provide school districts and educators information on their students’ readiness for college. But critics say this test is unnecessary and will not make higher education accessible to more students.

The test, called ReadiStep, will be available to schools starting in September 2009. College Board President Gaston Caperton says the test will be an important component of the college readiness system because it will help educators know the skills students already possess and skills they still need to develop to succeed in college.

The multiple choice test will assess critical reading, writing and mathematics and “provides real information that students, parents and instructors can use to help drive instruction,” says Kristopher John, executive director of ReadiStep. The results are meant solely for diagnostic purposes and will only be reported to school districts, teachers, parents and students.

But critics question the value of this test. The new assessment is “a cynical marketing ploy designed to enhance test-maker revenues, not improve access to higher education,” says Jesse Mermell, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Test (FairTest). The College Board, the same company that owns the SAT and PSAT, will charge schools around $10 for each test.

Critics also argue the test is unnecessary. “Who needs yet another precollege standardized exam when there is already a pre-SAT and the SAT test itself? In addition, students are tested every year in third through eighth grade because of federal No Child Left Behind mandates,” says FairTest Public Education Director Robert Schaeffer. The new exam only adds to the college admissions ‘arms race,’ he says.

However ReadiStep’s John says the test is a valuable tool to help prepare students to succeed in college. “It can help teachers change the course of a student’s instruction so that more students realize their academic dreams.”

The test aligns with the PSAT and SAT exams by assessing the same skills but at a grade-appropriate level, according to the College Board. ACT, another major college testing company, already has its own test for eighth- and ninth-graders that measures reading, writing, math and science skills.

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