Utica Community Schools’ formula for
a seamless transition from ACT to SAT

Christine M. Johns

Today’s students experience constant change in their daily lives. Thanks to rapid introduction of new technology, economic fluctuations and shifting world developments, events occurring in their backyards and across the globe impact the opportunities our young people have in school today and will experience later in the workplace.

In addition to offering nationally-recognized academic programming, the Utica Community Schools college culture is preparing students to adapt to change through problem-solving
and innovation.

One change that holds immediate significance for students in Michigan is the transition from the ACT (American College Test) to the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) as the required state assessment for high school juniors effective with the class of 2016.

While both exams measure degrees of college readiness, the Michigan Department of Education has determined the SAT is better aligned with state academic standards to which all public schools are held accountable.

As with ACT, SAT is also widely used by colleges and universities nationwide in evaluating student admissions.

A newly revised edition of the SAT will be given to all juniors next year. To prepare for the transition, UCS educators are engaged in ongoing College Board training to review exam samples and testing strategies.

Parents are also offered opportunities to learn more about the new exam. Nearly 500 parents attended a recent SAT awareness meeting conducted by the district.

Materials from the meeting are available at http://www.uticak12.org/sat/.

Additional parent meetings are planned for next year.

I am pleased to report that UCS students are already on track for SAT success. One reason – aside from strong K-12 academic preparation – is that we administer the SAT precursor known as PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) each year to nearly 2,100 tenth graders, which gives them an idea of what to expect.

PSAT provides detailed early feedback on where students stand on skills necessary for admittance to and success in postsecondary education. Both PSAT and SAT are designed by the College Board as a consistent means to evaluate students’ academic strengths and weaknesses.

As a longtime partner in our district’s mission to increase student achievement, the College Board also administers the highly respected Advanced Placement program – including the 27 rigorous AP courses we offer UCS secondary students.In fact, the College Board has recognized Utica Community Schools for increased student success and high rates of participation in this college-level coursework.

In UCS, students take more Advanced Placement courses than in any other Michigan school district. Seventy percent of UCS graduates have taken at least one AP course exam and almost two-thirds earn a college-ready score
on one or more exams.

UCS is initiating another important change at the secondary level – a new online academic planning tool called Naviance that is designed to broaden student opportunities.

Naviance is an easily accessible universal resource for everything postsecondary – from college applications to admission requirements, financial aid, course recommendations and scholarship opportunities.

A vital part of the software is a free service that provides SAT assistance of the type parents have been paying for to give their students an advantage.This extra component offers personalized tutoring via media tools that identify and give supplemental support in specific concepts where students have shown to need assistance.

In addition, the College Board has partnered with the Kahn Academy to offer SAT prep videos starting this summer. These free tools will be shared with UCS students prior to the end of the current school year.

Of course, a student’s foremost key to SAT success is to prepare for the exam by taking rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement, algebra I and II, geometry, physics and chemistry in their freshman, sophomore and junior years.

The goal of these and other district efforts is to give our students the best chance for success. The higher their achievement at every level leading up to and including the new SAT exam, the more opportunities they will be able to access once they hold that prized diploma from Utica Community Schools in their hands.

It’s true that change is inevitable. But whatever changes are to come, what matters most is every graduate’s ability to open doors and follow their dreams. It’s what the UCS college culture is all about.

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