Goodbye to SAT in Illinois? (That won't end student data sales!)

In his weekly newsletter this week, State Superintendent Tony Sanders made only a very oblique reference to selecting a new vendor for the test that high school students take to comply with federal school accountability law. But, tucked away on the state procurement website, a notice of award makes it official: the IL State Board of Education wants to switch from the College Board’s SAT and PSAT back to tests sold by ACT, Inc.

Chalkbeat Chicago Illinois could switch from the SAT to the ACT next school year

There is still a protest period for the award, so it’s not yet a 100% done deal, but Superintendent Sanders described ACT, Inc. as “the highest scoring responsible and responsive offeror” and their bid came in almost $10M less than College Board’s.

IL-FPS’s Cassie Creswell spoke at the ISBE monthly board meeting on Wednesday to alert Board members about the ongoing issue with the College Board selling Illinois’ students data in violation of the state’s student data privacy law. IL-FPS and eight other orgs sent a letter to IL AG Kwame Raoul in February asking him to enforce SOPPA and stop these sales. 

Unfortunately, the switch to a new state test won’t solve this issue. ACT, Inc. is also a data broker. And the College Board will still have a state contract for Advanced Placement tests fees either way, along with district-level contracts around the state. Our AG should step in and protect Illinois’ students’ data, just like the New York State AG announced on Feb 13, 2024 that they would be doing for New York students.

Aside from the data privacy aspect of the change from one vendor to another, the depressing truth is that this is also a major shift for high school students and schools. A huge investment in time and dollars is tied to whatever college admissions test the state picks to comply with test-based accountability built by federal law. Although federal law requires just a single test in high school, Illinois has chosen to give the PSAT in 9th and 10th grade. Some schools are giving the PSAT more than once in those grades, and some have even been testing 8th graders with a College Board product in anticipation of the testing regime they’ll face in high school. Schools and districts are funding test prep, or in some cases making it mandatory, with Khan Academy’s tight integration with the College Board as a no-fee option.

This heavy emphasis on testing is dramatically out of step with what’s been happening at the college level. More than 2000 higher ed institutions in the US, including all public universities and colleges in Illinois, no longer require a college admissions test score to apply. Even with a handful of institutions recently returning to requiring test scores, many more are announcing they’ll stick with test-optional policies. And the majority of merit scholarships at public universities do not require a test score either, according to a study FairTest released last summer.

Far better ways of assessing high school students exist. Illinois could be doing the bare minimum to fulfill federal requirements, one standardized test in high schools and no requirement of test participation to receive a diploma, and then upping their support high schools who want more meaningful, culturally-responsive and authentic ways to evaluate what their students know and can do. (See the New York Performance Standards Consortium’s implementation of performance assessment for starters.)

Unfortunately, the bid process for a new contract hasn’t been paired with a robust public discussion of what changes for the better to high school curriculum and instruction could be ushered in with a new state test.

This is also the case with 3rd to 8th grade state-mandated testing. That contract for the Illinois Assessment of Readiness is also nearing its end. An RFP should be released next summer. UIC’s Paul Zavitkovsky is a member of the working group on assessment that IL-FPS has been part of since 2021. He spoke about this issue at Wednesday’s ISBE meeting. You can read his full remarks here. The questions he asks about the process of selecting an elementary school assessment could easily have been asked about the high school process too. For more about what the state could be doing on this issue, see our recent blog post.