New Report Shows California School Districts Leaders Agree that College Entrance Exams are a Critical Element in Strengthening College Readiness

Today, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) released an extensive report outlining specific actions taken by district leaders to improve California students’ college readiness, access, and success.

Today, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) released an extensive report outlining specific actions taken by district leaders to improve California students’ college readiness, access, and success. The report, “Strengthening the Road to College: California’s College Readiness Standards and Lessons from District Leaders,” is authored by Sherrie Reed, Michal Kurlaender, and Scott Carrell with research support from Alexandria Hurtt, Derek Rury, and Iwunze Ugo.

The report integrates findings from both qualitative interviews with district leaders and statewide quantitative data on student outcomes to provide a description of college and career readiness among California’s public high school students as well as how educators across the state are working to improve the postsecondary readiness of the students they serve.

The report reveals that most school district leaders agree that “college admissions exams such as the SAT or ACT (both participation and performance) are critical elements in the definition of college readiness not in the College/Career Indicator.”

In their conclusion, the authors write: "Today, significant state and local efforts are aiming to address college preparation and to smooth the transition from high school into college, especially for underrepresented and first-generation college students. The adoption of college and career readiness standards and assessments, increased access to the SAT, and a richer set of college-preparatory curricula are all critical components of these efforts."

Many districts feel so strongly about providing access to college entrance tests that they provide the SAT to their students free of charge during a school day. From one district leader: “We do school-day SAT for our 11th and 12th-grade students. Because we’re about 85% participation in the National School Lunch Program, and we really just wanted to remove those financial barriers to the assessment.”

“This report reveals what we’ve known through both empirical data and practical experience: college entrance exams are a critical and objective component for measuring college readiness in our students, and in helping them actually prepare for higher education,” said Jessica Howell, Ph.D., Vice President of Research for the College Board. “As we work to close the persistent achievement gaps, we need to expand access to these exams to inform pathways to college, rather than close off opportunities for the students who can benefit from them the most.”

The report shows that standardized tests administered in schools, including SBAC, continue to show disparities in student learning that need to be addressed. As California and other states look to close the achievement gap for underrepresented students, the report highlights school districts’ most effective policies, including expanding access to the SAT and offering more opportunities to participate in Advanced Placement (AP).

Some conclusions of the report include:

  • PSAT-related assessments are an integral part of creating college readiness
    The use of the PSAT-related assessments is an integral part of the college-going culture and for monitoring progress towards college. Specifically, students’ performance on the PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 provides California schools with important information on opportunities for success in AP courses.
  • SAT is a critical indicator of college eligibility and success
    The SAT is a critical indicator for college eligibility and success. From the report: “Performance on the SAT thus acts as an important signal, to admissions counselors and students, about their likely entry and success at a given institution.”
  • Offering SAT in school for free is part of districts’ equity agenda
    Districts that administer the SAT free of charge to students and/or participate in school-day SAT testing may be removing financial and other structural barriers to participation. Currently, less than one-fifth of English learners (18%) and just over one-third of socio-economically disadvantaged students (38%) take the SAT. Many district leaders “include universal SAT participation as a key part of the equity agenda.”
  • AP Exams are a valuable tool in preparing students for college
    All district leaders viewed AP courses and exams as a valuable tool in preparing students for college and an important component of their high school academic programs.  According to one district leader: “I’ve actually seen students receive the most opportunity for college access by the scores on their AP exams.” Because of their importance in college readiness, many districts support reducing the costs associated with AP Exams.

The report reveals that there is much still to be done to address California’s persistent achievement gaps and get all California students ready for college and career. Expanding access to standardized tests, including the PSAT-related assessments, SAT, and AP Exams, are valued tools used by district leaders tasked with accomplishing this goal.

Please visit to read the full report.