The West Virginia Department of Education has chosen the SAT as the new statewide standardized test to replace the Smarter Balanced exam for high school juniors this spring.
The ACT, which also bid for the contract, is more popular among students and, at least recently, was supported by several education leaders and the governor.
House Bill 2711, which state legislators passed and Gov. Jim Justice signed into law this year, banned Smarter Balanced and effectively limited the state’s choice for a high school standardized test to the SAT or the ACT.
Corley Dennison, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the state Higher Education Policy Commission, which oversees two- and four-year colleges, said that, of seniors who took the tests during their high school years through the end of 2016, 11,682 took the ACT, while 2,077 took the SAT.
This will be the first time, at least in recent years, that a popular college-entrance exam will be given to most West Virginia public school students for free. Dennison said he doesn’t recall such a thing happening as far back as the 1980s.
“I just see the college admissions test as a positive move,” Dennison said.
He said providing either the ACT or SAT statewide removes a possible barrier to college.
The Education Department announced the SAT choice in a news release Wednesday afternoon. Department Communications Director Kristin Anderson said the outcome of the separate request for proposals process for selecting the new statewide standardized test for grades three through eight, where the federal government also requires standardized testing, will be made public within the next week.
“The College Board’s SAT test is a widely respected assessment used across the country,” Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Lou Maynus said in the release. “[The] College Board proved through the bid process that its product was the better assessment for West Virginia students by providing valuable resources at a lower cost than the other bidder.”
The College Board, a national nonprofit group that once was headed by former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, runs the SAT. The release said the College Board’s offer “was selected as the successful bidder following a competitive review process.”
Anderson said the SAT will cost $51 per student “throughout the life of the contract.” She said the contract initially will be for one year, with the option of three 1-year renewals.
She said the cost of the ACT assessment was $51 per student for year one, then $54 per student in year two, $56 in year three and $58 in year four. She said the department wasn’t required to pick the least-expensive test.
“Obviously we’re disappointed, but we respect the state’s decision and we wish them the best moving forward,” said Ed Colby, senior director of public relations for ACT, an Iowa-based nonprofit. “I’d also like to note that the ACT test will continue to be available to West Virginia students on our national test dates, as it always has.”
The news release stated that the SAT proposal “more closely met the specifications of the request for proposals. Students will have access to a large number of resources, including the Khan Academy, which is the official practice portal for the SAT.”
“Through Khan Academy, students have access to eight practice tests, thousands of practice questions and personalized recommendations to help students focus on the skills needed to improve their performance,” the release states. “Additionally, [the] SAT provides an easy process for approving accommodations and supports for testing students with disabilities, students on section 504 plans and English learners. West Virginia high schools are already familiar with [the] College Board through their Advanced Placement (AP) program that helps students earn college credits while in high school.”
Unlike the online Smarter Balanced assessment, used for the past three years, the news release said, students will take the SAT on paper the first year, “with an option to move online in year two and beyond.”
Students will be able to send their scores to up to four colleges for free.
“As the state’s eleventh grade general summative assessment used for accountability purposes, the SAT must be administered to all West Virginia juniors, except for those students who have significant cognitive disabilities who take the West Virginia Alternate Assessment,” the release said. “High school students still have the option to take the ACT as their college entrance exam at their own expense.”
In his Feb. 8 State of the State address, Justice said, “I am going to propose we throw Smarter Balanced in the trash can and we go to an ACT testing.” But he didn’t specify if he meant for high school or for lower grades, where ACT offers tests called Aspire.
To earn the state’s Promise Scholarship, students must earn a score of 1100 on the SAT, with 510 points coming from the math section and 540 points from the evidence-based reading and writing option. They also must have a 3.0 grade-point average.
Students still may use the ACT to qualify for the Promise Scholarship.
The last SAT test date for current juniors to qualify for the Promise Scholarship is June 2, 2018, while the last ACT test to qualify is July 14, 2018.
Former state Superintendent Michael Martirano established a commission that included teachers’ union leaders and school administrative leaders to give him recommendations on standardized testing. At a January 2016 meeting, the commission seemed poised to directly recommend replacing Smarter Balanced with tests developed by ACT.
But at the end of that meeting, Martirano, who had been largely absent from the meetings, came in and told the commission that its members should think of themselves as an “in perpetuity” group. The group didn’t meet again, and Martirano left his position in March, replaced by current Superintendent Steve Paine.
When asked for comment Wednesday, Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association school employees union, said “I’d have to look at the bids that each one made.”
Lee was a member of Martirano’s commission, and he supported the ACT while on that commission, but said “I haven’t seen anything since that testing commission.”
“I think it’s a step forward in West Virginia to go away from the Smarter Balanced,” Lee said. “It’s an opportunity for students to really take a close look at college — and opportunities there.”
The leader of a group of state school administrators said he didn’t expect the choice that was made.
“I was surprised, simply, in that the ACT seemed to be what most of the educators in the state were assuming was going to be the selection and that was what most of the students had taken, the ACT, in the past,” said Marion County Superintendent Gary Price, who also is president of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators.
“That’ll be a bit of a learning curve for school systems, to learn how to prepare students better to be successful on that test,” Price said of the SAT.
He said the choice isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“When you change tests you’re using, there’s always a dip in student performance,” Price said. “Hopefully, we won’t see that, but we’ll get that turned around and we’ll get the scores up where they’re supposed to be.”