Illinois high school juniors must take the ACT to fulfill graduation requirements starting next spring

Four high school students sit in a row taking a test.
Four high school students take a test during class. (Getty Images)

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Illinois high school juniors will take the ACT instead of the SAT to graduate starting next school year.

The Illinois State Board of Education was updated on the switch during its monthly meeting on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the school board says the ACT was awarded a $53 million contract over the course of six years. The state requires students to take a college entrance exam in order to graduate.

“At the end of the day, it came down to price,” said Stephen Isoye, chairman of the State Board of Education, noting that state law requires assessment vendors to go through a competitive procurement process.

State Superintendent Tony Sanders wrote in a weekly message to school administrators on Tuesday that the ACT “aligns with the Illinois Learning Standards, provides a secure online testing experience for students, reduces administrative burden on districts,” and will give “actionable reporting for educators and families.”

The procurement office evaluated bids from the College Board, which administers the SAT, and ACT Inc. on “technical specifications, commitment to diversity, and price.” Overall, the ACT received more points.

School districts in the state have given high school juniors the SAT for almost a decade. Illinois switched from ACT to the SAT in 2016 and has renewed the contract with the College Board several times.

However, Sanders said the state board will work with ACT to support schools through the transition.

“We will help you prepare teachers for the transition and help you communicate with students and families, so you can continue doing your best work in teaching and learning,” Sanders wrote in his weekly message.

Many colleges and universities stopped requiring entrance exams during the pandemic but are moving back to requiring the tests for admissions.

The state board’s contract with the College Board to administer the SAT for 11th graders and the PSAT for 9th and 10th grades will expire on June 30. Illinois, like all states, is required by federal law to administer accountability assessment to high school students. State law says the exam must be a nationally recognized college entrance exam, leaving the state with two choices: the ACT or SAT.

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.

Becky Vevea is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Chicago. Contact Becky at bvevea@chalkbeat.org.

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