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Post By:  Daily Herald

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 2.46.24 PM

Students take a practice ACT at Larkin High School in Elgin. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer/2013

 

 

The state of Illinois is closing in on a deal to give high school juniors the SAT college entrance exam next spring, potentially ending decades of regional preference for the ACT exam.

While some suburban school officials say they would welcome the change, they add the state’s budget impasse makes it uncertain whether schools might roll out the tests this spring and who would foot the bill.

The State Board of Education last Friday quietly revealed that the College Board — the testing company that provides the SAT college entrance exam — submitted a winning bid to test 143,000 high school students annually over the next three years.

The SAT scored higher than its competitor, the ACT, on a number of criteria, including cost. State officials estimate the test wold cost $4.7 million a year during the three-year contract, with tests costing $33.30 per student. That’s almost $1.4 million less per year than the ACT would cost at $39.50 to $56.50 per exam, depending on whether students take a writing component.

Jeffrey Smith, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 director of research and evaluation, said the six-school district is excited about the choice, though a little apprehensive about how fast everything is coming down the pike.

“There’s some trepidation about how fast we may have to transition but we had already spoken about transitioning ourselves when we thought we’d be funding it on our own,” Smith said.

Smith said the district recently conducted its own analysis and determined the SAT was the stronger testing product.

Like the ACT, SAT tests no longer feature a penalty for guessing the wrong answer. Coming free with the SAT would be four free college applications, using the Common Application at commonapp.org, for low-income students.

Funding questions are leaving some school districts in limbo.

Those with deeper financial reserves are committing to pay for the exams out of pocket if the state doesn’t provide funding. But others are waiting as long as they can, hoping the state will come through.

Illinois has been operating without a budget since July 1 with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and members of the Democratic-led General Assembly at a standoff.

District 214 had already committed to paying for the ACT next year for its 3,000 juniors. If the state approves a budget that funds the tests, Smith said District 214 might offer the SAT only instead of both tests.

Elgin Area School District U-46, the state’s second-largest school district, plans to ask its school board to approve funding to pay for the tests in December.

“We need to make a decision,” spokeswoman Mary Fergus said. With testing dates fixed in March and April, she said “it’s a tight timeline.”

Like District 214, Fergus said, “we’re fine with using the SAT … we’re just anxious to learn if it will be covered.”

The ACT was a part of mandatory high school testing from 2001 to 2014, a move partially motivated by state education officials’ desire to prompt more disadvantaged students to apply for college. For the last academic year, schools shifted to new exams called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, based on Common Core academic standards that have been adopted by most states.

The PARCC tests, which focus on English, language arts and math, are given to third- through eighth-graders and high school students. They replace the Illinois Standards Achievement Test and Prairie State Achievement Exam, which included the ACT, prompting a discussion of whether the state should continue to offer a college-entrance exam to all students without charge.

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