Michigan students to take SAT instead of ACT

By: Jeremy Selweski, Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published January 21, 2015

MACOMB TOWNSHIP/CLINTON TOWNSHIP/FRASER — Michigan has officially waved goodbye to the ACT and is welcoming the SAT as its primary form of high school student assessment.

The state announced on Jan. 7 that it was awarding a three-year, $17.1 million contract to make the SAT as its predominant college admission test, replacing the ACT exam that had long been administered to high school juniors.

In the past, students who opted to take the SAT had to pay extra fees and take the test outside of school hours. Now the SAT will be a free test, and students will be able to take the ACT outside of school hours.

The state will continue to offer the ACT WorkKeys program, a job skills assessment system that helps develop and assess high school students so they can make an impact in the workforce. A three-year contract for that exam costs $12.2 million.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, won the contract after the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) stated that their bid was $15.4 million lower than the next bidder. The Joint Evaluation Committee — which includes staff from the MDE; the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget; and school principals and superintendents — said the SAT contract also scored 10 points higher than other potential contract winners.

“The College Board’s SAT test is respected and used around the country,” said state Superintendent Mike Flanagan in a news release. “Michigan high schools work with them now through their Advanced Placement program that helps students earn college credits while in high school.

“Their bid was rated the highest, provides valuable assistance to Michigan educators, students and parents, is more aligned to Michigan’s content standards, and saves the state millions of dollars over the course of the three-year contract.”

MDE Spokesperson Bill DiSessa said the change to the newer format was guided or led by the fact that the old contract expired, and the dictation of the bid process led to a result where the SAT won out. He added that along with saving Michigan millions of dollars during the three years of the contract, the SAT was rated as the best test because it is more closely aligned with the state’s educational content standards.

“I would say that the advantages and benefits to the SAT speak for themselves,” DiSessa said. “Also, the fact is that many colleges accept SAT, and each year the College Board helps 7 million students prepare for a successful transition to college. It’s not like the SAT is some sort of unknown; it’s a globally recognized college admission test.”

The MDE is forming a team of educated local, regional and community members in its Joint Evaluation Committee to assist in the transition — one that has caught some school districts by surprise. With many districts already in the process of instructing current sophomores about ACT testing, teachers and administrators now need to prepare students for a completely different assessment come next spring.

In Chippewa Valley Schools, Superintendent Ron Roberts was largely unfazed by the switch to SAT testing. Addressing the Board of Education on Jan. 12, Roberts indicated that high school teachers who have spent the last several years preparing students for the ACT will just have to adjust their instruction for a new college assessment.

“This decision has caused some consternation for many people,” he said, “but we’ll have to trust that the (Joint Evaluation) Committee did the right thing. … So all those things that we did in the past, we will just now gear (them) in a little bit different way and help our kids with the SAT.”

“I just look at this as the evolution of what we do,” the superintendent continued. “If anyone says that this is really out of the ordinary, I don’t think they’ve been (working) in schools for that long, because test selection always evolves.”

Roberts also pointed out that the SAT has the advantage of being more closely calibrated with Michigan’s Common Core state standards than the ACT is.

“If the SAT aligns with the Common Core and we do a really good job of teaching the Common Core, then it should be a perfect fit,” he said. “Like anything else, it’s going to take a little bit of time to figure it all out and devise ways to help our kids. But it really comes down to good instruction (in the classroom), and if we have good instruction for our kids, then they should do well on the test.”

In addition, Roberts had no qualms with the MDE’s decision to go with an assessment that will save the state more than $15 million, even if it might inconvenience local school districts at first.

“It’s good to get a product that you want and pay less for it,” he said. “That’s what we all strive to do in our American consumer economy.”

L’Anse Creuse Public Schools Superintendent Jackie Johnston said instructional staff was already investigating ways to prepare students for the change, if it is implemented.

“L’Anse Creuse students are very bright and focused,” she said. “I am confident that will be reflected in their test scores, regardless of whether it is the SAT or the ACT. With the drive of our students and the dedication of our staff, I know that our students will continue to achieve their personal best.”

The switch to the SAT comes on the heels of another big educational change related to student assessment: the elimination of MEAP testing and the initiation of M-STEP, a one-year stopgap that begins this spring.

With 115,000 Michigan students taking the college entrance exam and the work skills assessment each year, many educators and students will be instantly affected by the format change.

But DiSessa said these changes usually occur with careful thought and are not devised in the heat of the moment. Whether it involves making changes in a relatively short time frame or conducting research over a period of years, numerous factors play into decisions like these.

“I would say that the (MDE) is always sort of keeping its ear to the ground and trying to make sure it’s aware of what’s going on in the assessment community, including developments with the SAT and ACT,” he said.

At press time, reports indicated that ACT officials had requested an appeal of the state’s decision to move forward with the SAT as its primary form of high school testing.

Julie Snyder contributed to this story.