This post arrived the day before Christmas. The author, teacher Michael P. Mazenko, says the decision took everyone by surprise.

Why did Colorado switch from the ACT to the SAT overnight? No one who knows will explain.



Michael P. Mazenko writes:


This week, David Coleman and College Board pulled off a big coup in both Illinois and Colorado by getting state departments of education to shift from the ACT to the SAT for the state-mandated junior college exam. These are the only two states to require a college test in high school, and both states had history with ACT going back more than a decade. In Colorado, this decision was announced yesterday, December 23, 2015, just as CDE closed for the holidays, and schools were out on break. While Eric Gorski of Chalkbeat did an admirable job reporting the news, there were few people around to answer significant questions. Many in Colorado’s education community are critical and suspicious of the unprofessional timing of the announcement.

Here in Colorado, the decision by CDE to contract with SAT rather than ACT was shocking to say the least. To begin, the state has been dragging its feet on this decision for nearly eight months for no clear reason. And, up until today, every indication was that the state would remain with ACT. Yet, here we are with a surprise announcement to switch testing companies in the middle of the year. The state has done a huge disservice to schools and students by voting for this significant change so late in the year with little time to prepare for it. And, it’s not just switching from ACT to SAT. College Board has announced a significant re-design of its test, the SAT. Thus this spring’s test is an entirely new SAT for which students and educators have no context, piloting, data, score comparison, training, or understanding of the new format. I am deeply concerned for junior-level students who will be asked to take an entirely new test, blind, and allow that test to become part of their permanent academic record.

In following the story, I am particularly bothered by mention of the decision being made by “a selection committee” that no one I know following the issue has heard of. When Colorado passed HB1323 which required that the junior level test be put out to bid, there was no talk of a committee. Previous coverage and discussion of the subject made no mention of the committee. With no names of members, no one was available for questions and comment beyond CDE’s spokesman. Additionally, I am troubled by the connection to the PARCC test and implication that the decision is an attempt to force Colorado to remain tied to PARCC. Just a couple weeks ago, CDE interim head Eliot Asp and State Board of Education President Steve Durham implied that Colorado would leave PARCC after this spring’s test. Durham noted that a majority on the Board are “opposed to this test.” Yet, shortly after those comments, the state named Rich Crandell – of Arizona and Wyoming – as the sole choice to head CDE. That surprised many in state, for Crandell was instrumental in promoting CCSS and PARCC in Arizona. Prior to this week, most people expected that Colorado would stay with ACT and withdraw from PARCC to replace it with the ACT-Aspire for grades 3-10. Now, everything is up in the air, and schools will scramble to prepare for an entirely new test and system in just three months.

Both ACT and SAT carry a significant decrease in test time, but the ACT is preferable for Colorado based on history and experience alone. ACT has been the state and national benchmark for “college readiness” for decades. It is a known commodity that is trusted by Colorado’s students, parents, teachers, and colleges. The state and Colorado schools also have fourteen years of data for student performance on the ACT, and numerous school districts have UIPs written around ACT data. And, now the ACT is aligned with Aspire for grades 3-10 with ACT at grade 11. Thus, the state could have had solid data for practically a child’s full career, and it would have synced with the 14 years of ACT data we already have. With the State Board and CDE indicating a probable withdrawal from PARCC, it only made sense to stay with ACT and use the Aspire for the grades 3-10 test. And those tests significantly decreased test times, which is what parents and the legislature voted for. Interestingly, Colorado’s new “graduation requirements” for the year 2021 according to CDE’s own document use ACT as one required benchmark. They’ve just contradicted their own plan. It seemed logical that Colorado would maintain a trusted relationship with ACT. Thus, the decision to switch to SAT is all the more baffling.

This decision is a problematic game-changer, and the most troubling part is the “newly designed” nature of the SAT. The SAT given this spring will be a new style and format with no piloting for test score comparison and data. Just like CDE did with PARCC, they are using Colorado’s students as guinea pigs for a new test. I know juniors who took the SAT this fall – which is early – because the test was familiar, and they wanted a score for a test style they knew and for which the scores were already established. They are wary of this new test because there is no data or experience with it, and we don’t really know what the scores will mean or what the cut points would be. Taking this new test for the state is risky. Obviously, many students will take this new SAT, but why would they take it as a school/state test, for which it will become their public record? As an educator, I must administer this test. But if my child were a junior, I would have serious reservations about taking this new test for the state. While I would encourage my child to take the ACT and SAT on a Saturday for which he can choose if he sends the scores, I would be wary of allowing the state to put scores for a brand new and unfamiliar test on his transcript. Colorado parents should be made aware of this concern.


In all, the decision by CDE to switch from the ACT to SAT should be met with suspicion and criticism. The majority of Colorado students have little history or familiarity with the SAT. The primary question we should all be asking is this: Who is benefiting from this decision? It’s not the schools or the students.



Michael P. Mazenko
Greenwood Village, CO 80111
A Teacher’s View
Twitter – @mmazenko