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CPS must pay for ACT after state switches to SAT

With the state’s announcement Thursday that it will switch college entrance tests this spring to the SAT, the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools will now have to find the money to pay for the ACT it has decided to use.

But district spokeswoman Emily Bittner still won’t say how much it will cost CPS, which recently borrowed $725 million at exorbitant rates to keep schools running through June, now that the state is opting to give juniors the other test.

In an email, she would say only, “We’ll have more on that at the end of the month.”

According to ACT, each exam costs $39.50, or $56.50 if a writing component is included. Testing windows still have not yet been determined for the district’s nearly 27,000 11th graders.

The Illinois State Board of Education can’t prevent any districts from skipping the standardized test they choose, but it won’t fund alternatives, either — once it can actually pay for the tests.

Spokeswoman Laine Evans said in an email that amid the state’s budget woes, ISBE hadn’t yet been given any money for standardized tests.

“ISBE remains committed to ensuring that our highest need students continue to have free access to a college entrance exam,” she wrote.

And on Thursday, in a brief and cryptic message on its website, ISBE announced its final decision:

“A protest to the procurement process was filed, and the protest was denied,” it wrote. “ISBE will now begin the process of negotiating a contract with the College Board. ISBE reaffirms its appreciation for the legislators who continue to support this commitment and who are working to find solutions for school districts during this critical time in our state.”

For more than a decade, the state Board of Education had paid for and administered the ACT to its more than 150,000 juniors preparing for college. But after its most recent contract with the testing company ended June 30, it solicited bids and accepted a $14.3 million one over three years from the College Board, which developed the SAT. That was $1.4 million less than ACT. ACT then lodged a formal protest.

The SAT is popular among private schools and on the country’s coasts but is making inroads in the Midwest.

CPS had told parents in January it would stay with the ACT test this spring, which students have been preparing for all year, saying it couldn’t afford to wait for a decision from the state. The ACT also will be mandatory for CPS students whether or not they have already paid to take it on a Saturday, according to chief education officer Janice Jackson. The state’s largest district will switch tests in the 2016-17 school year.