Illinois could switch from the SAT to the ACT next school year

A high school girl wearing a green shirt sits at a desk taking a test with two students in the background.
Illinois public high school students might be taking the ACT instead of the SAT in 11th grade next school year. The state board of education has started the process to award ACT Inc. a three-year, $53 million contract. (Getty Images)

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Next year, Illinois high school juniors could take the ACT instead of the SAT as the federally-mandated state test. The Illinois State Board of Education has started the process of awarding a three-year, $53 million contract to ACT Inc.

The College Board’s contract to administer the SAT for 11th graders and PSAT for ninth and 10th graders is set to expire June 30. The state board is required by federal law to administer accountability assessments to high school students. State law says that exam must be a nationally recognized college entrance exam like the SAT or ACT and must be awarded through a competitive procurement process. All Illinois public high school students must take a college entrance exam in order to receive their high school diploma.

The ACT would be administered in school buildings starting with the school year 2024-25, but students will still be able to take the SAT if they want to pay for it.

Illinois’ plan to switch tests comes at a time when the SAT is going fully digital and will take two hours instead of three. (The ACT is three hours). The new SAT will also be adaptive, with test questions that adjust in difficulty based on how students respond to previous questions.

While around 2,000 schools nationwide have become test optional or test free, elite universities like Yale, Brown, and M.I.T have backtracked and reinstated standardized tests as an admission requirement.

Illinois used the ACT for 15 years before the state board switched to the SAT in 2016. Since then, the state board has renewed the College Board’s contract several times. In 2016 and 2018, ACT Inc. protested the state’s College Board contract without success.

The new contract says that ACT Inc. will provide an assessment to ninth, 10th and 11th graders that aligns with the Illinois Learning Standards in English and math. The next step in the process is for certain parties to protest the bid. In the past, when the College Board was awarded a contract, ACT Inc. protested it. The board has not said when it will formally approve the contract.

A spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools said in an email to Chalkbeat that “CPS urges that if ISBE makes a change in the high school accountability assessment selection, they allow at least a year transition period before any new assessment becomes mandatory to ensure a smooth transition for our students.”

The Chicago Board of Education renewed a three-year contract with College Board in April 2023 and a spokesperson for the district said it plans to continue administering the PSAT and SAT until at least 2026.

Matthew Raimondi, who works at district U-46 in Elgin, asked the board on Wednesday morning at their monthly meeting not to move forward with contracting with ACT Inc. because he says the exam has not changed for years and does not align with the state’s learning standards.

“That high school assessment is ultimately going to guide how teachers teach. Teachers are going to teach to the test that you select,” said Raimondi. “I urge you as board members to make sure you make the best decision to move Illinois forward and not back to a test from the last century.”

State Superintendent Tony Sanders wrote in a weekly message Tuesday that the state board will ensure that assessments are in line with the board’s learning standards and that ISBE will provide schools with “ample support.”

Cassie Creswell, executive director of Illinois Families for Public Schools, says that no matter what tests the state switches to, she wants to protect Illinois’ students from having their data sold to other institutions.

Creswell urged board members on Wednesday to stop allowing testing agencies to sell student data that they collected through their exams. Creswell’s group recently sent a letter to state Attorney General Kwame Raoul asking his office to enforce the state’s student data privacy law, the Illinois Student Online Privacy Protection Act.

“Any new contract signed with the College Board or ACT Inc. should be clear that data sales are illegal and will no longer be tolerated,” Creswell said. “There is no exception in the student data privacy law for asking students or parents permission for sales. Licensing is actually the same as selling or renting data.” Creswell said.

In February 2024, the New York attorney general announced that the College Board is set to pay $750,000 in a settlement for sharing and selling student data it collected through the SAT, PSAT, and Advanced Placement tests.

Correction: March 19, 2024: An earlier version of this story said Cassie Creswell is the executive director of Illinois for Public Families. The organization’s correct name is Illinois Families for Public Schools.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at ssmylie@chalkbeat.org.

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