For the first time in 28 years, Amherst students will take the SAT this year, not the ACT.
While most East Coast schools have long preferred the SAT as the go-to college admissions exam, the Midwest has opted for the ACT. Ohio, caught in the middle, has mostly identified itself with the latter, including Amherst since 1989.
The SAT focuses on language and math while stressing data analysis, while the ACT includes science too, though it tests critical thinking and not science knowledge. Both have optional essays.
And as the Princeton Review points out in a point-by-point analysis, the tests are pretty much identical, even though they have vastly different grading scales.
So why the sudden change in Amherst, parents might wonder?
A few months ago, Ohio decided it would offer a college readiness test to juniors. Every school district had to pick a team.
Michael Molnar, who is in charge of curriculum and testing for the local district, said he and guidance counselor Bob Harcula were won over by an SAT presentation on the tools it has to help Steele High students prepare for the all-important exam.
Starting this fall, Amherst will provide a full suite practice tests to freshmen, sophomores, and juniors at no cost to parents through a partnership with the College Board, SAT, and Kahn Academy.
Teens will take the PSATs for their grade levels during the school day. The goal is to establish baseline for how ready they’ll be for the official SAT.
Online practice tests from Khan Academy will help identify areas each students needs to shore up, mapping out exercises to get them on the right path.
Juniors will take the National Merit Scholarship qualifying test, which also gauges readiness but opens the doors to more than $180 million in scholarship opportunities.
“In our opinion, a few top school districts do similar things, and in the past few years, as you know, we’ve been pushing the envelope to do things for our kids,” said Molnar.
He’s especially proud of how the plan cuts costs. In the past, SAT prep has often meant buying thick, expensive books.
Scrapping those burdensome costs means every student — not just ones from families free of money worries — will have the tools to be prepared.
“We thought those changes were exactly what our students were looking for to see every opportunity they can,” Molnar said.
The SAT will be proctored April 5 at Steele.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.