A Note from the Superintendent’s Desk – State changes to college entrance exams creates confusion

Benway headshotACT? SAT?

New legislation was recently passed in Illinois requiring a college entrance exam be administered as part of the state’s testing cycle.  Prior to the enactment of the legislation, the ACT exam had been administered to Illinois students for the past 15 years and was fully funded by the state as part of the Prairie State Achievement Exams.  At approximately the same time the legislation was passed, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) awarded the bid for college entrance exam testing to SAT.  Therefore, ISBE’s plan was to administer the SAT exam to all Illinois junior students during the spring of 2016.  Unfortunately, due to the lack of an Illinois state budget, the SAT exam was not funded for the spring of 2016.  Therefore, many Illinois students were required to schedule and pay for college entrance exams on their own.

For decades, OTHS has designed its curriculum to incorporate ACT prep throughout its course offerings, as most colleges and universities in the Midwest prefer the ACT score for admittance over the SAT.  In addition, OTHS implemented the ACTion program, an intensive ACT preparation program, for identified students.  As a result of these efforts, OTHS students consistently performed in the top 7% of all Illinois high school students on the ACT exam.  OTHS ACT averages also consistently exceed national ACT averages, even though most states do not administer the ACT exam to 100% of the junior students.

The state switch-over to SAT will not only bring changes to the curricular embedded ACT prep at OTHS, but will also require the development of a new preparatory program to replace the ACTion program.  Just as the state has not provided funding for the spring 2016 SAT, the state has not provided funding to support the costs schools must incur to make the necessary curricular changes and to develop new programs to prepare students for the SAT content and format.  Additionally, the state has also informed schools that there is no guarantee that SAT will still be the state’s choice for the college entrance exam at the end of its current three year contract.  Switching back and forth between ACT and SAT is harmful to students and is costly to schools and the taxpayers supporting them.

Fortunately, Illinois House Bill 4362 was recently approved by the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee and will require ISBE to contract with two vendors to administer college entrance exams.  The bill will give the school districts a choice to administer the ACT or SAT.  Although this bill is a step in the right direction for Illinois students, it has a long way to go before becoming law.  As a result, high schools in Illinois remain in limbo with regard to the future of college entrance exams in our state and what assessment prep programs to provide.

So what does this mean for OTHS and our students moving forward?  At this time, the OTHS administration encourages parents and students to consider the following when making a decision on a college entrance exam:

• Research admission requirements for the college or university of interest to your student and identify which entrance exam is preferred and/or accepted.

• The top 10 colleges and universities attended by OTHS students currently prefer the ACT exam for admittance and accordingly use ACT scores as a factor in the formulas used to award scholarships.

• The ACT exam is more subject/achievement oriented while the SAT focuses more on problem-solving skills.  Consider the test-taking strengths of your student.

• OTHS educators are more familiar with the ACT assessment format and have geared learning more toward ACT required knowledge.  OTHS is in the process of professionally developing teachers to enhance their understanding of the SAT, should the switch to SAT officially be implemented.

OTHS will continue to advance and develop programs to position our students to be prepared for either college entrance exam, as well as for the challenges students will encounter after graduation from high school.

Have a question for the Superintendent?
Send your comments to benwayd@oths.us