Suburban school districts stuck paying bill for college entrance test

 
 
Posted1/17/2016 7:45 AM
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  • Students at Larkin High School in Elgin take the practice ACT test last year. Without state funding for a college-entrance exam, Elgin Area School District U-46 and other suburban districts are paying out of their own pockets to administer the ACT and SAT this spring.

      Students at Larkin High School in Elgin take the practice ACT test last year. Without state funding for a college-entrance exam, Elgin Area School District U-46 and other suburban districts are paying out of their own pockets to administer the ACT and SAT this spring. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Suburban school districts are being forced to fork out funding to administer a college-entrance exam this spring with the state's budget impasse.

Illinois has stopped funding the ACT college entrance test that had been administered for free to 11th-graders for 15 years. Legislators haven't yet allocated money for its counterpart, the SAT college admission exam debuting this spring as the state's preferred test.

Several Fox Valley school districts are paying out of pocket for a college test this year, though not all are giving students the SAT option without a guarantee of state funding.

At the state's second-largest school district, officials say students will be able to take both tests this spring.

The Elgin Area School District U-46 school board has approved one-year contracts with ACT and the College Board, which offers the SAT, for $43,800 and $95,200, respectively.

"The majority of our students have prepped for and know the ACT test and we wouldn't want to put them at a disadvantage," said Terri Lozier, U-46 assistant superintendent of secondary schools, instruction and equity.

U-46's five high schools will administer the SAT on a school day (April 12), while the ACT can only be taken on a national testing day, which falls on a Saturday this spring.

The district's roughly 3,000 juniors potentially could take both tests, as they are free, and having two scores could help with college admission, said Laura Hill, director of assessment and accountability.

SAT includes reading, writing and math components, while ACT tests reading, English, math and science.

"Your scores look different, but in essence both tests have been used for years to predict whether or not a student would be successful in college," Hill said.

A new law that went into effect in summer 2015 requires a college-entrance exam be part of the state testing cycle. SAT won the bid costing the state $1.37 million less than the ACT over three years.

At Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300, officials are planning to administer only the ACT test this year.

If the state funds SAT, the district will make that test available to students as well, District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid said.

"We budgeted for that and will continue to administer ACT this year," said Heid, questioning the Illinois State Board of Education's 11th-hour decision to switch tests after the beginning of this school year.

District 300 has budgeted $75,000 to administer the ACT this year to more than 1,400 juniors.

Huntley High School's nearly 700 juniors also will be taking only the ACT. Huntley Community School District 158 is absorbing the roughly $45,000 cost.

"Whether we give the SAT is really dependent upon direction from the state," said Dan Armstrong, District 158 spokesman. "If they mandate it and pay for it, we will have to give it, obviously. We believe it's in the best interest of our students and the district to provide the ACT. These students came into high school expecting to take this test and they have been preparing for it throughout their high school careers so we want to honor that and provide them this opportunity for success."

Batavia Unit District 101, Geneva Unit District 304, Kaneland Unit District 302, and St. Charles Unit District 303 also are administering only the ACT at their own expense.

"We didn't budget for this test because it is not something we have ever had to pay for in the past," District 304 spokeswoman Kristy Poteete-Kriegermeier said. "However, the ACT is an important test for our students, parents and district. It is important to the district because it provides us with important historical data about student achievement that will be lost if our students do not take the test."

U-46 will allow students to take the regular ACT test, without the essay-writing component. Student can purchase the essay-writing portion of the test themselves, but a majority of Illinois colleges and universities don't require it. The SAT also has a writing component, which costs more money and won't be offered by U-46, officials said.

"We are asking for the bare minimum so that the students have at least a college entrance score to post," Lozier said. "Every single junior would have the opportunity to take a college-entrance exam."

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