The Michigan Department of Education announced on Jan. 7 that starting in spring 2016, the state will require high school juniors to take the SAT instead of the ACT, the state’s college-entrance test of choice since 2007. The College Board, a nonprofit organization that administers the SAT, and ACT, Inc. engaged in a competitive bidding process to decide which test would be administered to students. The College Board’s bid of $17.1 million over the course of three years was chosen over the ACT’s $32.5-million bid. While the shift could prove to be beneficial in saving the state money and creating uniformity throughout the education system, the suddenness of the change raises questions about the MDE’s motivations and potentially adverse effects.

According to the College Board, more than 3.6 million students take the PSAT, the SAT preparatory exam, each year. Therefore, high schools administering the SAT ensure consistency of students’ learning trajectories. Most prominently, the change saves the state money, potentially allowing for more investment in resources — including teachers and curriculums — to continue to prepare students for the SAT. Similarly, Michigan high schools will retain one important aspect of the old system: the ACT’s WorkKeys exam, which holds a $12.2 million three-year contract. The exams tests general job skills for all high school juniors, including assessments in applied mathematics, locating information and reading for information.

According to University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald, “the University has accepted both tests for many years, so this will not have a significant change.” While this change may not affect University applicants directly, several challenges could present themselves to high school students during the transition process between tests. Michigan’s short, three-year contract with the SAT could create future difficulties, as there’s no guarantee the state will not switch back to the ACT or another exam. These switches have potential detrimental effects for both schools’ and students’ test preparation prior to the exam.

The switch from the ACT to the SAT also presents challenges for long-term educational data collection in Michigan. It will be difficult to compare SAT exam scores, as the state collected data on the ACT for eight years. The decision was seemingly made for monetary reasons, without much input from students and educators. “They just pulled the rug out from under us, with absolutely no warning,” Michael Boulus, Executive Director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s very clear from the news release that this was done purely out of cost savings, with little concern for the students and the admissions process we’ve been using for years.”

Currently, there are many resources dedicated to ACT preparation, including courses and tutors. However, there are virtually no state-issued or curriculum-based preparation resources for the SAT. The transition process for tutors and students to learn a whole new test and set of strategies presents must be monitored closely in order to avoid creating a learning gap between tests.

Despite possible benefits to this switch, the decision to switch to the SAT was first and foremost for the state’s economic benefit; it was a decision that seemingly did not take into account the difficulties families and students will face during the transition process. While the switch saves the state money that could potentially be invested in bettering elementary and secondary education, Michigan should have been more transparent in its decision and included community input in the process. However, since the state has already decided to move forward with this change, close monitoring of schools should be the next step in the transition process.

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