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Michigan House: End essay test and bar SAT scores from transcripts

A student answers a question on a test using a pencil.

The Michigan House voted Wednesday to nix the essay portion of the SAT and remove standardized test scores from public school transcripts. Both bills passed the House 104-1 and now head to the Senate.

PhotoAlto / Odilon Dimier / Getty Images

Michigan juniors will get a reprieve from a high-stakes essay and would no longer have to worry about test-optional colleges seeing low SAT scores if two bills headed to the Senate become law.

The Michigan House voted Wednesday to nix the essay portion of the SAT and remove standardized test scores from public school transcripts. Both bills passed the House 104-1 and now head to the Senate.

 

Passage of the two bills follows a national shift away from standardized pre-college skills tests. More than 1,800 colleges no longer require SAT scores for admission. Removing scores from transcripts aligns with recommendations from the College Board, which creates and administers SATs and other standardized tests. 

 

Currently, SAT scores automatically appear on Michigan students’ official transcript   even if they’re applying to a college that doesn’t require the scores for admission. That puts Michigan students at a disadvantage when other students can choose whether to submit their scores, according to bill sponsor David Martin, a Republican from Davison.

The College Board eliminated the SAT essay from its tests last year, except in states including Michigan that still use it to meet federally required testing rules. 

Eliminating the essay test in Michigan would require approval from the U.S. Department of Education.  

Supporters of Martin’s bill say the multiple-choice “writing and language” portion of the SAT, which would continue to be administered in Michigan, sufficiently assesses writing ability. It asks students to read passages and identify grammatical mistakes, fix usage errors, and improve the substance and quality of the writing. 

Wednesday’s nearly unanimous House vote exposes a sharp division between lawmakers and the Michigan Department of Education, which opposed both bills. 

“We believe that student writing needs to be assessed,” department spokesperson Marty Ackley said in an email message.

Removing SAT scores from transcripts also would help Michigan schools comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

 

Including test scores on transcripts used to save families money because the College Board charges to send them to colleges separately. The current charge is $12 per report after the first four, which are free.

 

But more and more colleges aren’t requiring test scores with good reason, said Bob Schaefer, executive director of FairTest, a nonprofit advocacy group that opposes misuse and overuse of standardized testing.

 

“Colleges and universities that have waived or eliminated test-score requirements typically find they get more applicants, they get better academically qualified applicants in terms of grades and course rigor, and they get more diversity,” he said.

The SAT is part of the Michigan Merit Exam given to high school juniors. The exam also includes the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) science and social studies assessments and WorkKeys, which tests job skills in applied math, graphic literacy, and workplace documents. The Michigan House last year voted to eliminate the WorkKeys portion of the test, but the Senate has not taken up the bill. 

State Rep. Cynthia Johnson was the only House member to oppose the bills.

 

“An indicator of progress in any culture is the percentage of people who can read and write,” the Detroit Democrat said after the vote. “It’s very sad that we are accepting to not encourage the practice of writing — at least that’s how I’m seeing this.”

Tracie Mauriello covers state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Reach her at tmauriello@chalkbeat.org.

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