State scores in switch to SAT

The Detroit News

It’s hard to keep track of all the acronyms that fly around the education sphere, but the Michigan Department of Education’s decision to move to the SAT from the ACT is a significant change. While some school officials aren’t happy about dealing with a new test, it’s a switch that will save taxpayers money — and offer students some additional benefits.

Since 2007, all Michigan high school juniors have been required to take the ACT college entrance exam as part of the Michigan Merit Exam, in part to encourage more students to apply to college. Michigan law requires high school students to take a college entrance exam.

The move to the SAT, starting in 2016, should be fairly seamless for students, according to department officials and some education reform experts. Like the ACT, the SAT will be offered free of charge to all juniors.

Of course, not everyone is pleased with this change. Some school administrators feel blindsided and upset they now have to meet a new target after years of building a curriculum around the ACT.

Department officials should take these concerns seriously, especially since so much pressure is placed on schools to meet certain benchmarks on these tests. More leniency should be afforded schools as they transition to this new standard.

But the financial savings are real, and it would have been careless of state officials to ignore that. The MDE said the College Board, which administers the SAT, won the three-year contract worth $17.1 million — a bid that was $15 million less than the ACT.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan thinks this is a positive change, and points to how the SAT test “is respected and used around the country.”

“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,” Flanagan said in a statement.

The MDE says to prepare for the new test, students can take practice tests, and teachers and other school officials will participate in professional development. This training is covered under the SAT contract.

Students will benefit from these additional training opportunities. The College Board has partnered with Kahn Academy, the free, online learning resource, to provide free SAT preparation materials to all students starting in 2015.

Martin Ackley, spokesman for the department, says nearly all colleges — including all universities in Michigan — accept the SAT test as well as the ACT, so students won’t be at a disadvantage for not taking the ACT.

The SAT tests students in reading, writing and math; the ACT has five parts: English, mathematics, reading, science and an optional writing test.

Education experts who have looked at the revamped SAT test — the one students will start taking in 2016 — say it will be more aligned to Michigan standards. Those include: requiring to back up claims, testing vocabulary in reading passages, fewer math topics but in more depth, and testing knowledge of U.S. founding documents.

The transition to the SAT will inevitably pose challenges at first, but the savings for the state and the added benefits for students made this the right call.