Michigan requires writing portion of the SAT as other states drop it

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan is among a very few states still requiring high school students to take the writing portion of the SAT college admissions test.

Removing the requirement passed the state House 104-1 last March, but the Senate has yet to consider it as the legislative year winds down. Advocates for getting rid of the test are puzzled by the lack of action.

“Students are at a disadvantage now,” said Jennifer Smith, the director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards. “We are over-testing our kids versus the rest of the country.”

The writing portion should stay, according to the state Department of Education, which administers the Michigan Merit Exam, including the SAT.

“The Department of Education believes writing is a vitally important part of our students’ education and needs to be measured for continuous improvement of instructional practices,” William DiSessa, a spokesperson for the department wrote in an email. 

He declined further comment.

College Board, a nonprofit organization that creates and administers the exam, discontinued the optional essay in 2021 nationally, but still offers it to states, like Michigan, where it is required if students take it during the school day. 

Students in Michigan and Illinois are required to take the essay portion if the test is administered during school. If a student tak the test at a testing center on the weekend, the essay portion is not offered to them.

“The SAT essay is a test that colleges don’t look at, and they haven’t looked at them in a while,” said Bob Kefgen, the associate director for government relations for the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. 

“Schools do a much better job of assessing writing ability on their own through things like essays in school or other structured writing throughout the curriculum,” he said. 

Advocates for eliminating the test requirement argue that it puts students at a disadvantage because they are both scored on that portion of the exam and judged on their college admission essay. 

“So many schools are test-blind, but Michigan doesn’t have that option,” Smith said. Test-blind colleges don’t require students to submit their SAT scores as part of their application. If a student decides to still submit their scores, the college is supposed to ignore them. 

“Your score goes on the transcript, which includes the essay portion that none of their counterparts across the country are taking,” she said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges did not require students to submit standardized test scores, according to the Association of School Boards. Even after the pandemic most colleges in Michigan are “test optional” and do not require students to submit test scores. But SAT scores are still shown on transcripts that the students are required to submit to colleges. 

A bill sponsored by Rep. David Martin, R-Davison, that would eliminate the writing exam and keep the score off transcripts, was passed by the House.

“It is very sad that we are accepting to not encourage the practice of writing — at least that’s how I’m seeing this. The subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic used to be the three foundational pillars of education and have long been considered indispensable for society,” the lone opponent, Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, said in a statement following the vote. 

The entire SAT test takes students nearly four hours to complete. Eliminating the writing

portion of the exam would take an hour off the test and give teachers more instruction time, Smith said.

Students are pretty burned out after taking an exam for four hours, which can make it hard for them to engage in their afternoon classes, Kefgen said. “Shedding an hour off of that testing time is going to put students in a better place to participate and learn through the rest of the day.” 

A similar bill would also make the ACT WorkKeys an optional test. Some employers use the WorkKeys to judge students looking to go into technical fields. It passed the House 104-1 and has not been taken up by the Senate.

“A lot of students felt like they weren’t getting a lot from the ACT WorkKeys test,” said 

De’Shondria Bedenfield, the assistant director of government relations for the Association of School Boards. 

There is more pushback from manufacturers that use it to gauge if someone is fit for the workforce, she said.

“To make every student in the state take this test every single year because one sector is using it to help fill their positions seems a bit of an overreach to me,”  Kefgen said. 

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