Illinois Mandates ACT for High School Graduation Starting Next Spring


Starting next spring, high school juniors in Illinois will be required to take the ACT to graduate, marking a significant shift from the SAT, which the state has mandated since 2016. This decision is a result of a new contract awarded to the ACT by the Illinois State Board of Education. The change is expected to have considerable implications for students, educators, and the broader educational landscape in the state.

Illinois Mandates ACT for High School Graduation Starting Next Spring

(Photo : PEXELS / Emily Ranquist)

The Shift from SAT to ACT

The Illinois State Board of Education's decision to revert to the ACT comes after a long period during which the SAT was the standard. In 2016, Illinois made the initial switch from the ACT to the SAT, aligning with a national trend that saw many states and districts adopting the College Board's SAT. However, starting next spring, students will once again be taking the ACT, a test historically favored in the Midwest.

The new contract awarded to the ACT spans six years, from 2025 to 2031, and is valued at $53 million. Steven Isoye, chairman of the State Board of Education, stated that the decision was primarily driven by cost considerations. "It came down to price," Isoye told Chalkbeat Chicago, highlighting that the financial aspect played a crucial role in the Board's decision to switch back to the ACT.

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Implications for Students and Educators

The transition back to the ACT will have several implications for students and educators in Illinois. For students, the shift means a change in the preparation strategies they have become accustomed to over the past several years. The ACT and SAT, while similar in purpose, differ in structure, content, and focus areas. This change will require students to adapt to new testing formats and possibly alter their study habits.

Educators will also need to adjust their teaching and preparation methods to align with the ACT's requirements. Schools may need to invest in new resources and training to ensure that teachers can effectively prepare students for the ACT. This shift could also affect the availability and focus of test preparation courses and materials, which have become an integral part of high school education.

Moreover, this change might impact college admissions strategies for students. While both the ACT and SAT are widely accepted by colleges and universities across the United States, some institutions may have preferences based on historical trends and regional practices. Students will need to be aware of these nuances as they plan their college applications.

The Competitive Landscape of Standardized Testing

The decision to switch back to the ACT also reflects broader dynamics in the competitive landscape of standardized testing. Last month, the ACT, which used to operate as an independent nonprofit, completed its acquisition by Nexus Capital. This strategic move aims to strengthen the ACT's resources and improve its competitiveness in the educational testing market.

ACT CEO Janet Godwin conveyed optimism about the acquisition, telling Inside Higher Ed that she anticipated the move would equip the ACT with essential resources and curriculum-building partners to enhance its competitiveness in securing state contracts. The ACT once dominated this space but has faced significant competition from the College Board, which owns the SAT, in recent years.

The College Board has made substantial inroads into the market, offering not only the SAT but also a range of Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams, which have become increasingly popular in high schools nationwide. This comprehensive suite of offerings has strengthened the College Board's position in the educational testing and assessment sector.

However, the Illinois State Board of Education's decision to award the contract to the ACT underscores the continuing relevance and competitiveness of the ACT in the standardized testing landscape. The financial terms of the contract and the potential for enhanced resources and partnerships following the Nexus Capital acquisition suggest that the ACT is poised to reclaim its position in the market.

Illinois' decision to mandate the ACT for high school graduation starting next spring represents a significant shift in the state's educational landscape. Driven by cost considerations, this move will have far-reaching implications for students, educators, and the competitive dynamics of the standardized testing industry. As the ACT seeks to leverage its new resources and partnerships to enhance its offerings, the impact of this change will be closely watched by stakeholders across the education sector.

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