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Published in Print: January 5, 2005, as Michigan to Use ACT or SAT in New High School Exam

Michigan to Use ACT or SAT in New High School Exam

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Michigan will soon replace its homegrown high school test with one centered around a national college-entrance exam.

The change, scheduled to take place in the 2006-07 school year, makes the Great Lakes State the third, after Illinois and Colorado, to embrace an off-the-shelf college-entrance test for high schoolers. ("Michigan Considers Scrapping Its High School Test," Nov. 24, 2004.)

It comes as states enter the final stages of gearing their accountability systems to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Under the 3-year-old law, states must test high school students in reading and mathematics at least once during high school. Starting in 2007, high school students must also be tested in science.

Michigan lawmakers approved the package of bills by large majorities in both chambers of the legislature on Dec. 9. The bill calls for the new test, the Michigan Merit Exam, to use the ACT or the SAT exam, which colleges nationwide use to gauge students’ levels of college readiness.

The ACT is produced by the Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT Inc., while the SAT is produced for the College Board by the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service.

The SAT or ACT portion of the new test will measure English and math skills, while additional segments testing science and social studies will follow closely the Michigan Educational Assessment System, or MEAP, tests now in use.

The new test could also include ACT WorkKeys, a test of workplace skills. But it should take less time to complete than the current test, according to Sen. Wayne Kuipers, the Republican who chairs the Senate education committee. He also expects that the part of the test drawn from the national exams will be graded much more quickly than the current exam, benefiting the schools and helping the state to comply with the deadlines of the federal education law.

“We wanted to have a test that was really meaningful to kids and parents, and provided good data to the schools,” Sen. Kuipers said. He called the change historic, noting that the MEAP tests, which will still be given in elementary and middle school, have been in use for more than a quarter of a century.

Tied to Merit Grants

The high school part of the current testing system has been the most controversial. Students and parents have long complained that the test is of no value to them, because colleges do not use it in admission decisions. Several years ago, the legislature created $2,500 “merit awards” that went to tuition at postsecondary institutions. The awards were dependent on MEAP scores, which in turn pushed up participation rates from around half to about 80 percent, Mr. Kuipers said.

Still, the federal law requires 95 percent participation on state exams, which is one of the reasons the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals lobbied the legislature for the new test. The new exam will continue to determine who receives the $2,500 merit grants.

State schools Superintendent Thomas D. Watkins Jr. and the Michigan state board of education had vigorously opposed switching to a test centered on the ACT or the SAT. They feared it would not relate closely to Michigan’s academic standards, and therefore would not be a good measure of how well schools were teaching the state standards, said Martin Ackley, the spokesman for the state education agency. The officials also worried about the cost of introducing a new test, he said.

But the education officials were eventually mollified by a requirement that the new test be aligned with state standards, through supplemental test elements if necessary.

“The board and the superintendent feel this constitutes the best of both systems,” said Mr. Ackley. “It should encourage students to take a college-entrance examination and look at going to college.”

Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill into law this month.

Vol. 24, Issue 16, Page 20

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