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ACT® and SAT® Exams for All: Implications of Using College Entrance Exams for Federal Accountability

ACT® and SAT® Exams for All: Implications of Using College Entrance Exams for Federal Accountability

Twenty-five states now mandate that all of their students take the ACT® or the SAT® exam at some point during their high school careers. These mandates enable the use of ACT and SAT exam results in college- and career-readiness indicators. Feedback is mostly positive for these initiatives. In fact, they can help increase the number of low-income students who attend college. When college entrance exams are used as a measure for state and federal accountability, all students must take the tests, and the exams are provided at no cost to them. This removes both a financial and logistical hurdle from the process of applying to college, and it also can help identify college-ready students who wouldn't have opted into taking the test. An article from Chalkbeat, a nonprofit education news organization, cites a study that examined Michigan's ACT testing mandate, which uncovered that college attendance increased by nearly 2 percent after the mandate and by 1 percent for low-income students.

While 12 of the states that mandate college entrance exams require an additional assessment to meet federal testing requirements, 13 states use the SAT® and/or the ACT exam as the only high school math and ELA assessment for federal and state accountability. Here are two examples:


Michigan has mandated college entrance exam testing for several years and, just three years ago, made the switch from the ACT test to the SAT exam. In Michigan, 11th grade students take the Michigan Merit Examination (MME), which is comprised of three parts, and all students must take all parts. The three components of the MME are the Michigan SAT with Essay exam to assess ELA, math, and college readiness; the ACT WorkKeys® exam to assess workforce readiness; and the Michigan state test, the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), to assess science and social studies. Because the SAT exam is the only measure of ELA and math proficiency for high school accountability, it contributes up to 63 percent of the accountability rating for high schools.


In Oklahoma, 11th grade students take the College and Career Ready Assessment (CCRA), which is made up of the science and U.S. history assessment components aligned to the Oklahoma standards and either the SAT with Essay exam or the ACT with writing test. Districts get to choose whether to administer the SAT or the ACT exam. In Oklahoma, SAT or ACT exam results contribute up to 50 percent of the accountability rating for high schools.

The Debate

Even though 13 states have adopted the SAT or ACT exam as their only measure of math and ELA proficiency for accountability purposes, whether this is a good practice is still debated. These are the two primary arguments:

For - Fewer Tests That Students Must Take

With college entrance exams also serving as the measure of high school ELA and math achievement, students have fewer tests to take. With the stressors that high school students face, worries about over-testing, and the increase in anxiety among students, having fewer tests is a welcome relief. Additionally, it also means that less instructional time will need to be devoted to test preparation, leaving more time for meaningful instruction.

Against - Incomplete Standards Alignment

One of the biggest issues that testing experts raise about using the SAT and ACT exams as statewide summative tests is the lack of alignment with state standards. Achieve, a nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization, conducted an independent alignment study of the ACT exam with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and found that fewer than 50 percent of math and ELA items were aligned to the high school CCSS. A separate alignment study commissioned by Delaware and Maine, conducted by HumRRO, found that 76 percent of SAT items aligned to the high school CCSS and 47 percent of math items aligned to the high school CCSS. However, alignment studies by the College Board (the company that administers the SAT exam) and ACT, Inc. dispute these findings. Because what is tested is likely to influence what is taught in classrooms, the fear is that instruction will diverge from the standards and move toward teaching to the adopted assessment. 


Although everyone doesn't agree on state SAT and ACT test mandates, students still need to prepare. The ACT, Inc. and College Board websites contain a variety of resources to help students get ready for the assessments. Also, some states purchase SAT and ACT test-preparation resources and programs and then provide them to students free of charge, so it's important to check your state education agency’s website to find out what is offered.

Here at Edmentum, we offer several options to help prepare for the SAT and ACT  that are flexible enough to meet your unique implementation.

Study Island Practice and Preparation

Edmentum’s online assessment and practice program includes test-taking strategies for use with the SAT and ACT tests, practice topics and questions, and practice tests aligned to the real tests.

Edmentum Test Packs with Prescriptions  

These fixed-form assessments start by assessing gaps students may have when it comes to mastering all sections of the ACT and SAT assessments. After tests diagnose each learner’s strengths and weaknesses, students then receive an individualized prescription, or learning pathway, to help them excel. When time is in short supply, this personalized option may be just the ticket.

Courseware Digital Curriculum

Our fully built courses for use with the ACT and SAT exams offer a complete start-to-finish curriculum option to help deliver a powerful preparation program for students. This solution utilizes rigorous content, rich media, graphics, videos, and interactivity to provide an engaging academic approach.