Illinois Chooses SAT Over ACT for Statewide College-Readiness Testing

By Catherine Gewertz — December 21, 2015 1 min read
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The latest chapter in the rivalry between the College Board and ACT Inc., brings this: Illinois has thrown over its longstanding statewide contract with ACT and decided to give the SAT to its 11th grade students instead.

The awarding of the three-year, $14.3-million contract has prompted a formal protest from ACT, according to the Chicago Tribune. That protest must be resolved before Illinois’ college-readiness testing can be finalized.

The move is just the latest in a series as the College Board pushes hard to compete for statewide testing contracts, an approach that’s been an ACT staple for many years. Earlier this year, Michigan switched from the ACT to the SAT. An additional dynamic adding heat to the already hot high school testing market is the newly signed Every Student Succeeds Act, which allows districts to use a “nationally recognized” high school exam—a description that fits the SAT and ACT—instead of their previous, standards-based tests, for federal accountability.

The possible switch opens up new questions in Illinois. For one thing, the budget doesn’t provide money for the test this year, so it’s not clear whether all of the state’s juniors will take a college-entrance exam. Many districts are planning to use their own money to pay for the ACT, which they’ve given on the state’s dime for 15 years. Some districts could venture into using the SAT this year as well.

A few factors converged to enable the College Board to nab the Illinois contract. The state made the ACT optional last year when it used the PARCC test in high school (and lower grades, too). A law passed earlier this year required a college-entrance test, but ACT’s contract had expired by then, according to the Tribune.

In the subsequent competition for that contract, the College Board underbid ACT by $1.37 million on the three-year contract, the Tribune reported. The ACT’s protest cites several grounds to contest the award, including “inconsistent, biased or arbitracy scoring in the evaluation of the proposals,” and the College Board’s alleged failure to “disclose current or pending litigation,” according to the Tribune.

ACT officials wouldn’t discuss with the Tribune the details of the dispute, but said they’re continuing to work with districts and schools interested in using their tests.

See an update to Illinois’ decision about the SAT:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.