New test debuts

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While Yale students may remember eighth grade as a time free of college admissions tests, the College Board may change this paradigm.

Beginning in fall 2009, College Board, the owner of the SAT, will offer a new standardized test for eighth graders. The exam, called ReadiStep, is intended to help students assess their skills as they prepare for high school and college. But critics say the test will only begin the college admissions frenzy sooner than necessary.

The results from ReadiStep will not be seen by colleges, said Jennifer Topiel, executive director of communications for College Board. The College Board is not concerned that the exam will raise anxiety levels among students early in the college application process, she added.

“ReadiStep has nothing to do with the college application process,” Topiel wrote in an e-mail to the News.

On the contrary, a critic of standardized tests said, ReadiStep has everything to do with the college admission process.

“Marketing this new test will press the college admissions arms race down into middle schools,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, an organization that calls for reform to assessments in American schools. FairTest has been highly critical of the SAT as well as the general practice of standardized testing, which the organization has deemed harmful to both students and the educational system as a whole.

Students are given standardized tests at least 14 times by the time they reach eighth grade, Schaeffer said, adding that by then, parents and schools have more than enough information to assess students’ academic strengths and weaknesses.

Schaeffer also drew parallels between ReadiStep and the College Board’s other examinations, often given to students as early as their freshman year.

“This will be a slightly shorter and slightly easier version of the PSAT, which in turn is a slightly shorter and slightly easier version of the SAT,” he said. “It’s really the pre-pre-SAT.”

But Topiel disagreed.

ReadiStep and the SAT are different exams, Topiel argued, noting that scores are unrelated to college admissions. ReadiStep provides results which allow educators to gauge a student’s skills and needs at a high school level, she said.

ReadiStep tests the skills of SAT and PSAT at an eighth grade level, said a news release from the College Board.

ReadiStep is a two-hour exam, nearly half as long as the SAT. The sections on ReadiStep test critical reading, math and writing, according to information provided by the College Board. The three sections of the SAT include critical reasoning, math and writing.

As of Thursday, a day after the new test was unveiled, the three preparatory schools interviewed said they had not decided whether to use it.

Some high school guidance counselors have interpreted ReadiStep to be an extension of the college process into middle school, said Sarah Beyreis ’85, director of college counseling at the Cincinnati Country Day School.

“We don’t give the PSAT to freshmen, let alone eighth graders,” she said. “Some of my colleagues were saying this is going to be a nightmare.”

In rigorous college preparatory schools, there can already be a significant level of stress before high school begins, said Anika Kitson, the middle school learning specialist at the Laguna Blanca School in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“[ReadiStep] is just another way to increase the stress,” she said.

But Topiel said ReadiStep was created to meet demand from schools already benefiting from SpringBoard and CollegeEd, two programs run by the College Board intended to help prepare younger students for high school and college, respectively.

Students taking ReadiStep will complete three multiple choice sections and will be scored in relation to other eighth graders.

Comments

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