What Michigan’s switch to the SAT means for high school students

Wednesday’s announcement that the Michigan Department of Education will be offering the SAT as the free college admission test in all public schools caught many people by surprise. All Michigan colleges requiring an admission test accept both the SAT and ACT, but Michigan has offered the ACT as part of the Michigan Merit Exam to all public school juniors since 2007. Since Michigan has its roots as being an “ACT only” state, Wednesday’s announcement is a reminder that the only thing constant in applying to college is change.

Several recent articles in Bridge have covered some of the anxiety parents and students face when making a college choice or paying for college, so it would be easy to see this announcement as one more adjustment for college-bound families to make. But the switch to the SAT also gives students an opportunity to make the most of a new situation, and the related changes that come with the new test.

Some critical points to keep in mind:

The change takes effect in 2016. If you are a high school junior, absolutely nothing has changed. You will take the ACT as part of the MME this March, and it will still be free. If your school offers an ACT test prep class or workshop, take it—it will come in handy in a couple of months.

Tenth graders, double down on your studies. No one has seen specific questions that will be on the new SAT, but the goal of the new test is to better measure what students understand from their work in the classroom. As a result, the more you understand from class, the better prepared you’ll be for the test—just make sure you know the difference between memorizing (“Who was the first president of the United States?”) and understanding (“If the first US president was alive, what three things would bother him the most about government today?”)

Plan on taking the PSAT in the fall. A new version of the SAT next spring means there will be a new version of the PSAT this fall—and there’s nothing like the PSAT to get you SAT ready. Some schools will offer the PSAT test for free, but if your school charges a fee, it’s worth saving your pennies now for an experience that will pay off big dividends in eight months. PSAT test prep materials will be available when you come back to school in the fall.

Give your school counselor support and space. In the next year, your school counselor will have to administer the current MME; plan for the new MME; help teachers adjust curriculum to meet the demands of the new MME; revamp the test prep classes and seminars they offer so they’re ready for the new MME, and make sure they understand how to interpret the sub-scores of an SAT that isn’t created yet. Much of a counselor’s work on your behalf is done when you aren’t around, and that will include more hours on the MME this year. They’d much rather spend the time working with you—but for now, they will have to work for you. The best thing you can do is be patient, and appreciative.

Be ready to take both the ACT and SAT next spring. Just like two English teachers approach teaching differently, two college tests approach assessment differently—and one approach may make more sense to you than the other. Since that difference can play an important role in where you go to college, plan on taking each test next spring—and if you need help paying for the ACT, ask your counselor if you qualify for a fee waiver.

There are two kinds of excitement in planning for college—the kind that leads to worry, and the kind that leads to action. This week’s SAT announcement seemed to have come out of nowhere, but it can still take you somewhere. Just where is largely up to you—and that’s the good kind of excitement.

Patrick O’Connor is Associate Dean of College Counseling at Cranbrook Schools, and author of “College is Yours 2.0”

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Thu, 01/08/2015 - 10:12am
I would suggest that all members of the State house and senate along with the members of the Michigan Department of Education be REQUIRED to take either the SAT or the ACT tests and their scores published in Bridge magazine. Any member of the State legislature or Department of Education that could not score at a minimum level of college acceptance would then be denied access to his/her job until he/she could pass one of the entrance tests.
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 10:24am
Love it! Maybe the tests all immigrants must take for citizenship application too.
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 11:56am
It is obvious that Mr. O'Connor doesn't have a child in 10 grade. And isn't at a public school where the counselors are so overloaded with counseling students on various matters besides SAT/ACT and then schools like Allegan High School also have to teach a few classes on top of their load of students that they help. Excellent students I know are confused and afraid by this announcement, since they have been taking the ACT pre-test for years. Now to have this thrown at them..... the parents are on a high anxiety level too. We all know they teach to the test and now the test has been changed.....good luck students.
Patrick O'Connor
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 12:31pm
As the article indicates, students can, and should, take the ACT as well as the SAT. This will allow students to show their best work to colleges without any penalty, since they don't have to submit their SAT scores to any college if they don't want to. Allegan's school counselors know this, and they'll surely be sharing that with their students. So will the many overworked public school counselors who have asked if they can reprint this column in their school newsletters, in the interest of easing community concerns.
Jeff Salisbury
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 4:56pm
Goodness. Do you regularly cover education as a beat or did someone just hand you this as an assignment? You're giving students and parents all the wrong advice. You wrote that students "don’t have to submit their SAT scores to any college if they don’t want to." Are you under the impression that test results and other family data are private? Apparently you aren't aware that SAT and ACT regularly sell all their student and family data they collect to colleges and universities across the state and country. Last February, "College Board increased its fees for student information to 37 cents per name; the ACT now charges 38 cents per name." http://dianeravitch.net/2014/03/24/sat-act-sued-for-selling-student-data/ Some students and their filed suit almost a year ago. Be interesting to know how that suit is coming along and whether or not Michigan students and parents should be concerned about their data being sold.
Patrick O'Connor
Fri, 01/09/2015 - 9:27am
A close read of the link you provide indicates "students must opt-in to allow the SAT to distribute their information, while they must opt-out to prevent the ACT from doing so." In either case, the actual test scores are never revealed to third parties.
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 12:02pm
Mike you are so right!! Do you think anyone from the house or senate will take your challenge? My money is on no, not one will take the tests. And where is all the millions they so called saved go? Back into the education fund? No one seems to know that answer.
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 10:58am
Better yet, have all current citizens of Michigan take the test and if not passing be deported to..... well I don't know where. LOL
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 12:06pm
The SAT underbid the ACT by 15 million dollars. They were able to do so because the Gates Foundation subsidizes the College Board (SAT) and its President, David Coleman. Coleman facilitated the Common Core standards with which the SAT questions -- the new ones, a new test is being created as we write -- to "align" with Common Core. In order to control and manage public education in the way Gates and CC advocates want, you have to control the testing, particularly the state mandated testing. This really is not about academics. It is about politics, and a disturbing kind of line between the fed. gov. and big money. Cheery counselor articles like this that elide these very real facts are not helpful. Nor is the silence of the MDE.
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 12:09pm
You are right on Mike. In addition to them taking the test let me see their Math skills for the advanced Algebra and Trig. and beyond. They dont have a clue what EVERY KID needs to know to survive and thrive in the future. Oh yes don't forget that two years of foreign language. R.L.
Chuck Jordan
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 2:41pm
Bill is right. Brave New World.
Mary Kovari
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 3:34pm
One of the problems with "teaching to the test" is that the test can and should change. Many educators and other stake holders blame the current "standardized testing environment" for their woes in trying to deliver quality education. I believe that standardized tests are not the problem as much as our attitudes toward the test. Is it appropriate for schools to spend an inordinate amount of time and money "prepping" students to take this test? We should be spending our money and time on implementing world class curriculum (MAISA) and training our teachers on how to meet the needs of their students using best practices and high standards. We should be fighting for the resources that we need (and yes this includes smaller class sizes, especially in urban classrooms) to do the real work of getting students ready for career and college. The counselor above who describes her workload compared to the author who works at Cranbrook is a good case in point. It's not about the test - its about having the resources to arm students with the deep and disciplined thinking they will need to make their way in the world. Instead we bemoan the fact that we have spent all this time preparing students for a test and now the test is changing - really - we can and should make different choices.
Steve Smewing
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 5:29pm
I like your thoughts Mary. All this stressing and test prepping is coddling and coddling does not transfer well in the real world. Teaching to a test is robbing ones mind. Teaching to a test makes it easy to teach as all you have to do is hit all you tick marks and leave it to the student to regurgitate the information on test day.
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 4:04pm
Patrick and All--you--including guidance counselors--may or may not know that the Michigan eLibrary (http://mel.org) provides no cost practice tests and preparation for all the college entrance exams--ACT, SAT, PSAT plus AP, CLEP, WorkKeys and COMPASS--via its LearningExpress Library eResource. Using federal funding, MeL makes this and other resources that are important for college and career readiness available to all Michigan residents. If students do not have Internet access at home, they can find MeL resources at their local public library. The College Preparation Center in LearningExpress Library can be found at: http://galesupport.com/migeoipcheck/migeoipcheck-lxpress3.php?database=CPC Deb Biggs Thomas Library of Michigan/MDE
Howard Wetters
Sun, 01/11/2015 - 1:55pm
Make the elected officials take both tests and drug test them as well. Let those who think they are leaders lead by example.
Edward Hejka
Tue, 01/13/2015 - 4:29pm
Nobody should be required to take either of these high stakes tests! They are invalid measures of college readiness or predictors of college success. They do generate millions of dollars in revenue from anxious parents.
Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:53pm
Nice information for high school students and parents to know. The SAT creates more anxiety than ACT, both biased. When will the mis-educated get a clue? ijs
Wed, 02/04/2015 - 11:40am
As usual the Department of Education demonstrates that it does not have the best interests of students when making these decisions. Why not take two or three years to make the transition? That way the students would be prepared to do their best on the tests. This is similar to the time the state decided to raise the bar for being proficient in Math on the MEAP. They raised the score you needed to be proficient 30% in one year. Why not raise the bar 6% over 5 years? As a counselor I had students come to my office very upset that they were no longer proficient in Math even though they had A's and B's. If you understand how the brain of the teenager works, how to help students transition to new tasks, and the emotions of the students, the Department of Ed would make different decisions.