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SATs

Michigan’s money-saving switch from the ACT college prep test is causing serious anxiety because there aren’t enough sites for students to retake the test.

SAT locations lacking

High school students wanting to improve their SAT scores are having a hard time finding places to take the test. There are fewer than half the locations for the SAT as there are for the ACT. Note: Use the slider to see how locations differ between the upcoming ACT and SAT tests.

When Kate Fazioli takes the SAT college placement test on Aug. 26, she’s hoping to boost her math scores enough to get into the University of Michigan.

“If I could get it as high as my (verbal) scores, I’d be golden,” said the Dexter High School senior.

But Fazioli shares an unexpected hurdle with thousands of Michigan high school students – a long drive and a stay in a hotel before the test.

That’s because there are just 30 sites available statewide to take the SAT in August and 80 in October, causing many students to drive long distances to take a high-stakes test that affects what schools will admit them and how much they’ll get in financial aid.

“Taking a placement test is already stressful enough, but having to go the extra mile –  literally -- makes it so much worse,” Fazioli told Bridge Magazine.

It’s an unintended consequence of the Michigan Department of Education’s switch from the ACT to SAT in 2016 as the tool for evaluating high school juniors. The decision was driven in part by the state’s desire to save money: The SAT’s winning bid was $5 million a year lower than the one from the ACT.

For the August test, there are no sites between Detroit and Kalamazoo and few in the Grand Rapids area, forcing some students to drive to northern Ohio and Indiana.

The closest site to Fazioli was in Brighton, just 20 miles away from Dexter. “That filled up really quickly,” she said.

So, it's off to Everett High School in Lansing, nearly 55 miles away, where she’ll head with her mother, spending the night in a hotel so she can get to Everett by 7:45 a.m.

She’s understandably nervous. “This is my last chance. The stakes are high. The stress is high.”

SAT unaware of problems

Since the state switched tests, the College Board, which administers the SAT, has added testing locations. But the increase has not caught up with demand, especially in southeastern and western Michigan.

Ted Gardella, executive director of the College Board’s K-12 efforts in Michigan, said the company has added sites in the Detroit area since the College Board won the contract. He said he was unaware of complaints. An offiicial with the College Board said 2017 marked the first year the SAT was offered in August and it anticipates adding locations next year as demand increases.

If we need to increase capacity, we can certainly work on that,” Gardella told Bridge Magazine

All public school students take the test in the spring of their junior year at their schools as part of statewide assessments. For most students, that becomes the test they take again. Yet even though the ACT is no longer the state-sanctioned test, it still has more than double the sites than the SAT.

Kate Fazioli

Kate Fazioli hopes to be headed to the University of Michigan, but she'll take a detour to Lansing first – to take the SAT, 55 miles from her home in Dexter.

It’s a problem now because seniors, who took the SAT at their schools in April, are applying to college this fall and some schools making “early decisions” want all materials submitted by Nov. 1.

Counselors, private academic advisers, parents and students across the state bemoaned the dearth of SAT sites to Bridge and urged the College Board, which administers it, to remedy the situation.

“I got many, many emails in June,” said Holly Markiecki-Bennetts, director of college counseling at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. All included similar words of panic such as “I can’t find a site.”

One student from Dearborn is headed to South Bend, Ind. (distance: over 200 miles), she said.  Two others are headed to the Toledo area. Those are the ones who can afford the travel.

“What I worry about is those families that don’t have the ability to do that,” Markiecki-Bennetts said.

She said seven students who wanted to take the test in August didn’t bother registering after hearing about the lack of locations locally.

‘Dad, it’s Defiance, Ohio’

A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education also said officials had not heard complaints, adding that ensuring enough secondary testing dates was not part of the state’s $17 million, three-year contract with the College Board.

“The MDE is unaware of students having problems finding an additional SAT testing location in Michigan,” state education spokesperson Bill DiSessa wrote in an email to Bridge.

Bridge had no problem, though, finding students, parents and high school counselors who are anxiously scouring  College Board’s website hoping to find a closer location to retake the test.

Retaking the test can be crucial: Increasing scores can help students get into better colleges or improve financial aid packages.

“That can make or break a scholarship. That can make or break admittance to a school,” said Mike Smith, a veteran counselor at Reeths-Puffer High School northeast of Muskegon.

skyler zink

Skylyr Zink will drive about 75 miles to Defiance, Ohio, to take the SAT test on Aug. 26 because there aren’t closer locations to his home in Manchester, Michigan, southwest of Ann Arbor.

Skylyr Zink hopes to improve his scores so that he too can get into the University of Michigan. But he said he already knows his next SAT test – on Aug. 26 – is going to be a mental and physical challenge. A lineman for the varsity football team at Manchester High School, southwest of Ann Arbor, Zink has a game against Clinton High School the night before.

Eight hours after the final whistle, Skylyr plans to wake up and take the SAT.

In Ohio.

He said he scoured the Internet for closer locations. They were all booked.

“Well, Dad, it’s Defiance, Ohio,” he recalls telling his father Eric.

His dad’s response: “Really?”

Yep.

And so Skylyr will wake up early and drive 75 miles for the test. He realizes it could affect his results and he may have to take it yet again.

“I’m very nervous,” he said.

Switch offers ‘stark contrast’

For decades, Midwestern colleges and high schools relied on the ACT, though all public colleges and universities in Michigan accept scores from either the ACT or the SAT.

Beginning in 2007, Michigan began administering the ACT test to all high school juniors as part of its annual high school assessments.

A third of Michigan students, roughly 34,000 students, went on take the ACT a second time. But because of the ACT’s long history in Michigan, it had hundreds of testing sites across the state. It still does.

If students didn’t take it at their high school, they typically didn’t have to go far to find the test (both ACT and SAT tests cost $46 excluding the optional writing test).

But now that all high school juniors take the SAT at their schools, officials said that’s the test most are likely to take a second time. And they say supply hasn’t kept pace with demand.

“To me it’s in stark contrast to what I experienced with the ACT,” said Rose Ramey, whose son Joe will leave Dexter and head north to Flint, about 60 miles away, for the Aug. 26 test.

When Joe’s older brother retook the ACT a few years ago, he did so twice at Dexter High School, his mother said.

Location matters

When Michigan announced the switch to the SAT, Smith, the guidance counselor, said he asked the College Board to make his high school a testing site. It declined, he said, as it waited to see how many would sign up to retake the test.

Smith urged other area districts to consider becoming a site, he said, because he said he knows that familiarity helps students.

As it is now, the closest location is in Grand Haven, about a half-hour west.

“The spots get filled up quickly because there are fewer sites,” Smith said.

Though his data is limited to his school, Smith said students at his school who took the ACT at the high school improved their scores by 1.2 points (on a 36-point scale) more than those students who traveled to take the test.

On a high-stress day, Smith said it simply helps to know where to go, where to park, where the classrooms are.

“It was a strong benefit for us to have it at the home school,” he said. “That piece of anxiety is (removed) and they can focus on the test.”

Some throw up their hands

What upsets some is the state made the switch in part because of cost savings; the three-year contract with the College Board will save the state $15 million. A state official called the contract the SAT, which the ACT unsuccessfully challenged, “the best value to the state of Michigan for the required services."

Kim Parros, whose Ann Arbor company, Parros College Planning, works with students on the college application process, has a number of clients who are having to travel for the upcoming tests, and her son previously had to go an hour west to Jackson to take the test.

She said she’s upset the state relied heavily on cost to justify its decision to switch tests and fears how it will affect students who have to travel.

But there’s potentially another problem, and one that should concern advocates who have pushed state leaders to develop policies to get more kids into college: What happens if taking the test is too much of a struggle and they don’t take the test a second time? If they don’t improve their scores?

“Some kids just throw up their hands,” said Art Sawyer of Compass Education Group of California, which said Michigan has the fewest SAT locations of the top 12 SAT states. Sawyer said states rarely switch between the tests.

“It took the ACT by surprise,” he said.

So too, did it surprise parents and students. And though the state saved money, others are seeing their own costs rise –  along with their blood pressure.

About The Author

Mike Wilkinson

Mike Wilkinson is Bridge’s computer-assisted reporting specialist. He can be reached at mwilkinson@bridgemi.com.

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Comments

Amy B.
Tue, 08/22/2017 - 9:10am

My daughter tried to register for the Aug. 26 SAT test and the closest location with spots available was in Alpena, almost 500 miles away round trip from our home in Mason. This was not an option. She had no problem finding a nearby location to take the ACT, which she has decided to use instead. This was a serious failure and has caused students a lot of stress. She registered for the Oct. SAT test but the results will probably not be available by the Nov. 1 early deadline for many applications. Message to students: Despite the state's switch, keep focusing on the ACT!

Patrick O'Connor
Tue, 08/22/2017 - 1:06pm

There is some cause for concern about the lack of August SAT sites, but that’s because many high schools who usually offer the test are still closed. Another SAT date is set for October, when seniors can still take the test and meet the Nov 1 application deadline in most cases—and there are plenty of sites open for that.

Also, school counselors should have told students they can still take the ACT in September. All colleges that require the SAT will also take the ACT, so if distance was an issue, the ACT was an option.

This is the first time in many years a summer SAT option was available. It will likely even out next year.

Sue
Tue, 08/22/2017 - 1:15pm

The discussion should really focus on the ACT vs. SAT. I have tutored students in both tests, and the ACT is really a better test of a student's ability to do college-level work. It tests English grammar and sentence structure, math, reading comprehension, and science reasoning. The SAT tests only the first two, putting equal weight on math and language scores. With the ACT, the math score is only one-quarter of the total. The SAT then favors students who do better in math than those who are stronger in language and reasoning. Most of college is focused on language (writing), reading comprehension, and communication (as in critical thinking) than specific math classes. Schools should provide students the choice of taking either the SAT or ACT onsite, since colleges accept either. I always recommended to my students that they take both and send the scores of the best one to their colleges of choice.

Jack
Sun, 08/27/2017 - 8:53am

I too thought the ACT test was a better indicator of college success than the SAT. I don't understand why, when they made the SAT more like the ACT, schools rushed to change to the SAT.

Beth
Tue, 08/22/2017 - 6:12pm

It would be interesting to know what percentage of students retaking the test increase their scores enough to influence selective admissions or financial aid.

Anna
Thu, 08/24/2017 - 9:10am

The author takes his cue from the test-prep / college admissions consulting industry and seriously overstates the probability that students who retake the SAT (or ACT) will improve their scores by enough to make a difference in college admissions. Indeed, more and more colleges and universities have made standardized test scores optional in their applications, which means they won't be impressed by a few points more eked out by taking the test several times. Coaching on test-taking strategy between April or May and August or September might make as much as a 5% difference. But it's almost impossible to improve your SAT or ACT score by more than single digits if you're usually a good student, and were healthy and well-rested the first time you took it. Plus, the higher your score, the harder it is to improve.
The fact that there are ANY sessions scheduled in August for the SAT is astonishing in itself. Almost all test sites are schools, and most Michigan school districts are closed during most of August.

Chris H
Sun, 08/27/2017 - 9:09am

One more paragraph about the U.P. would have been interesting . The map suggests those families are going to do the real driving!

Mursalata
Sun, 08/27/2017 - 9:58am

Let's Keep it Dave Chapelle When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong- in Education: If there are students - high school juniors - with the presence of mind to develop a "retake" SAT plan and who have access to reliable transportation to reach an unfamiliar test location and who have access to funds for the expenses associated with the retake (test costs, gas, food, hotel) -- those fortunate students are outnumbered by teens who have no retake plans or access to the resources such a plans require. If you've never witnessed disenfranchisement in real-time, here is your chance. If you've never witnessed orchestrated mental confusion about a significant (if arbitrary) educational choice, here is your chance because most colleges/universities in Michigan will accept ACT and SAT results.

If there is really a difference between ACT/SAT why is the current SAT contract 3-years?

So, what happens in 2.5 years when the SAT contract with College Board nears it end? There is flawed strategy (or perhaps none) when high-stakes educational assessments are awarded to the lowest bidder. The flaw could rest on an approach modeled on a system requiring short-term (3yrs is rather short) "bidding" for a high-stakes educational assessment.

Lunelle (aka Moon Girl) the smartest person in the Marvel universe, is already having a hard time in school, now, she has to face at least three additional access to higher education barriers: fewer testing locations, travel costs and the unnecessary anxiety associated with Location/costs. I concede that I may have overlooked some details - for example, perhaps these issues only apply to the people (yelp, remember students are actually human beings/people) retaking the test - if so - the solution is simple and everything I've written before this sentence doesn't matter because all those students need to do is not screw up on their first attempt of whichever test they take. Come, not messing up isn't too much to ask from teenagers, is it?

When keeping it real goes wrong in education the state saves 15-million over 3-years and provides disenfranchisement practices that may last for generations.

Debra Asano
Sun, 08/27/2017 - 5:57pm

Look at the graphic again.
Consider the miles and conditions for students and families in the Upper Peninsula!