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ACT

Why Taking Competency Tests, like the MCAS, can be Critical for Transition and College Planning

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Most states require some form of competency testing for students, particularly students who will graduate with a state standard diploma. But in the past year, standardized competency testing has become more complicated, if not impossible, to carry out.

In Massachusetts, graduation requirements have been altered for several grades of students. Students graduating in 2021-2023 are being offered alternative options for meeting state competency determination in one or more of the required subject areas (e.g., science and technology/engineering, mathematics, English Language Arts). For more details about those alternatives, see MA Graduation Requirements and Related Guidance on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website.

The opportunity for students in the Class of 2022 to graduate without ever sitting for 10th grade MCAS is something that many students, parents, and teachers are excited about. While I understand, and even agree with, criticisms of standardized testing, there are also many reasons that I am disappointed for the students who are missing out on the opportunity to sit for this testing. These students, especially those with disabilities, are missing out on a vital transition planning activity.

Preparing for, and sitting for, (and coping with,) high stakes tests is an important part of life. Whether you pass or fail, being able to show up and perform your best in a high-pressure situation is a valuable life skill. Moreover, being able to demonstrate competency in a test situation is a reasonable and necessary college and career skill.

Additionally, standardized tests like MCAS provide objective feedback regarding the student’s level of achievement with high school material. Grades can be tremendously subjective, and are highly dependent on the teachers and types of classes that the student is exposed to during high school. In contrast, students participating in honors, college prep, and functional math classes all sit for the same standardized math tests. This is especially important when students in all three of those classes are interested in heading off to college after high school, and when we want to get a sense of their readiness for handling college coursework. Generally, students who do not earn passing scores (i.e., students who score in the “Needs Improvement” or “Partially Meeting Expectations” categories) on the MCAS, especially by 12th grade, will struggle with college placement exams, such as the Accuplacer, and may end up needing to take remedial coursework at the start of college. Students have a right to know how ready they are for the academic rigors of college as they are making their college plans, and standardized testing results can be helpful information (although they are by no means the whole picture).

With the new competency determination options, many students in Massachusetts view sitting for MCAS as something that is only worth doing if they are possible candidates for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship (a merit-based state scholarship program). However, I hope students will also consider the other positive reasons I have listed above when deciding whether to sit for the test. For college-bound students who do choose not to sit for MCAS, I strongly recommend sitting for other standardized exams during high school, such as SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, etc. These experiences are important opportunities to build confidence in high stakes situations, to assess college readiness skills, and to identify skill gaps that may need shoring up.

Certainly, there are many legitimate concerns about standardized test contents and validity, including significant equity issues. I also believe that competency tests and college placement tests provide important information for many college-bound students. They are one metric, among many, that are worth having for transition and college planning.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

8 Tips You Need to Know about SAT and ACT

By | NESCA Notes 2019

 

By: Dina Karlon, M.A.
Transition Specialist, NESCA

Starting to think about the college admissions/testing process? It can be costly and confusing, so we’ve compiled some tips to help you navigate the testing landscape.

Tip 1 – SAT or ACT – Which test should a student take? Most colleges will take either, but there are differences to the tests. SATs, which were revamped a few years ago, has Reading, Math and Writing, while the ACT adds a Science section. SAT questions assess problem-solving abilities, while ACT questions are more fact-based, similar to school testing. Typically, SATs use much higher-level vocabulary than the ACT. The ACT tests math concepts through trigonometry, while SATs stop at geometry. SAT divides its scores into two areas – Reading/Writing and Math, with a perfect score of 1600 (800 for each). ACT scoring is based on 4 sections that are averaged into a composite, with a perfect score of 36. While SAT is more well-known by many New Englanders, the ACT is taken slightly more often, having gained popularity in the past 5 to 10 years. A student may prefer one test over the other if the individual:

Still not sure which one to take? Visit the tests’ websites to take/score a practice test. See which one may be better through this conversion chart: https://www.studypoint.com/ed/sat-act-concordance/.

Tip 2 – SAT Subject Tests – In addition to the general SAT, students can register for tests in specific subject areas. There are 20 specialized tests, and an individual would usually only take 2, if any. Most colleges do not require them, although a student may take them to demonstrate a strong interest or aptitude in a subject or area of passion. For example, a bilingual student could demonstrate proficiency in a language. Subject tests could be a way for students to strengthen their application among similar candidates. If a student wants to major in a science, a strong score on a science subject test could set that person apart from others.

Tip 3 – Apply Early – Standardized testing is pricey, and hidden costs can creep up. Register early to avoid late or waiting list fees. Doing so also allows students to reserve a slot at their own school (if offered there). Whether students are neuro-typical or not, there is comfort in taking tests in one’s own school. For students with anxiety, it is very important, as familiarity with their environment can reduce anxiety.

Tip 4 – Vouchers – Visit SAT and/or ACT sites to determine eligibility for test fees being waived through a voucher. Work with high school counselors to obtain a waiver.

Tip 5 – Costs – There are registration fees for standardized tests. The current fees for the exams are:

There’s good news for New Hampshire residents. A few years ago, the SAT replaced the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) as the state test for high school juniors. Therefore, all juniors have the opportunity to take one free SAT. Factor this in for next year, as the deadline to take the test is in March.

Tip 6 – Free Test Scores Sent to Colleges – To lower costs, take advantage of having 4 free test scores sent to colleges. When you register to take both the SAT and ACT, students have the option to send up to 4 tests to 4 colleges at no charge, saving $52 ($13 per test) for the ACT and $48 ($12 per test) for the SAT. Individuals have up to nine days after taking the SAT test to register for score reports. It’s best to sign up for them when you register as it’s easy to forget to do so after. Some students may not opt to do this because they want to see their scores before they are sent to colleges. The benefit of sending them with the SAT is – regardless of your scores – if taken again, a person’s entire history will be sent to colleges where they take the highest score from each section. For example, if a student scores a 400 on English and a 500 on Math in April, then chooses to retake the test in October and scores a 500 on English and a 400 on Math, the school will take the two 500 scores for a total of 1000. If a student is very unhappy with a score on a particular day and they don’t want a college to see that score, students can research whether the schools they are applying to will accept score choice. While this may be an option, it will incur an additional fee. In general, I recommend sending all of the scores and letting the admissions team select the highest. With ACT, score histories are not sent to colleges. Instead students pick a specific test date’s scores to send. Unlike the SAT, if a student gets a higher score in separate sections on various test dates and wants the colleges to see the scores from each test date, they will have to pay for each test date’s score to be sent.

Tip 7 – Accommodations – The process for requesting accommodations and when to apply for them is different for each test. Check the SAT and ACT websites for exact processes for each. Here are some tips:

– Apply early as it can take up to 7 weeks to hear which accommodations are approved. Accommodation request applications may be due at the time one registers for the test – or even before.

– Students should talk with their SAT/ACT school representative about accommodations. While ACT only accepts requests through students’ schools, SAT allows students to apply for accommodations independently. I recommend working with the Accommodations Coordinator at the high school (school counselors will know who this is).

– It is up to SAT and/or ACT if they will allow students accommodations, not the high school.

– Once accommodations are determined for a school year, students can take the test several times (though it’s not recommended to take it several times each year) and not have to reapply for accommodations. SAT accommodations last for one year after high school graduation.

– Lists of accommodations and procedures for requesting them are at: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-childs-school/tests-standards/how-to-apply-for-sat-and-act-accommodations.

Tip 8 – Test-optional Schools – Some of us just don’t test well and are terrified of taking such tests. If a student doesn’t feel standardized tests reflect their academic ability and don’t want them considered in their admissions application, consider applying to test-optional schools. These schools review admission materials (transcript, recommendations, etc.) to determine if a student is a good fit for their institution. Here is a list of test-optional schools: https://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.

References

SAT website: Collegeboard.org

ACT website: ACT.org

https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-childs-school/tests-standards/how-to-apply-for-sat-and-act-accommodations

https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/choosing-starting-school/leaving-high-school/sat-or-act-how-to-know-which-is-best-for-your-child

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/differences-between-the-s_b_3451049

 

About the Author: 

Dina DiGregorio Karlon, M.A., is a seasoned counselor who has worked as both a school counselor and vocational rehabilitation counselor, guiding and coaching students and adults through transitions toward independence in both college and the working world. With NESCA, she offers transition assessment services in Londonderry, New Hampshire as well as transition planning consultation and coaching to students and families throughout New England.

 

To book an evaluation with one of our expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. To book Transition Services in N.H., ask for Dina Karlon. 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.