There may be one less thing for Wilton High School juniors to stress about.

In early August Gov. Malloy announced that beginning with the 2015-16 school year, CT 11th graders would no longer have to take the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Exam), and that it would be replaced with the SAT as the state’s standardized test assessing students’ mastery. This was done through a waiver the Governor requested and received from the US Dept. of Education on behalf of CT to reduce the amount of standardized testing required for public high school students.

According to the CT State website, this waiver was sought, “…in an effort to eliminate duplicative testing, reduce over-testing, mitigate student stress, and address parental concerns.”

What’s more, the SAT will be free for all CT students. According to the governor’s office, “The move has an added benefit of leveling the playing field by ensuring those who otherwise might not be able to afford the SAT ⎯the costs for which typically run more than $50⎯will not be precluded from taking the exam, which is often requisite for admission to higher education institutions.

Wilton assistant superintendent Dr. Chuck Smith oversees curriculum for the town’s school district and covers standardized testing. Although it is still unclear how and when the SAT will be administered, he says he believes WHS juniors will take the state-sponsored test in March of 11th grade. “It’s mandated and the state has to pay for it⎯but they’ll only pay for one test.”

In other words, any additional SATs the students want to take will be their own financial responsibility.

Timing⎯and Stress

So if it’s likely that the state-sponsored SAT will be administered in March of junior year, what implication does that have for students who want to take it additional times, say early fall of a student’s senior year? And now that the test will be harder, what then?

“This process varies quite a bit from student to student,” says Stephanie Klein Wassink of Wilton-based Admissions Checkup. “Some students will have started test prep sophomore year and for others it will jump start the process. It may also help students who are not great test takers look into test-optional colleges. As students mature they also tend to do better on the standardized test so while it is not ideal (especially if you hate rushing) from an applying early perspective, some students may want to take the SAT/ACT early in their senior year.”

As for taking a test more than once, Klein Wassink says, “We have always been a big fan of the ‘one and done’ approach to the standardized test.”

One component to consider is stress, given that many Wilton students take challenging course loads and have busy schedules outside of school. Plus, many of the colleges they often consider require Subject Tests as well, and quite often AP tests coincide with SAT testing dates.

“Students cannot take the SAT and the Subject Tests on the same day, so having an additional test date devoted solely to the SAT gives students more options and flexibility when creating their standardized testing schedule. With students’ very busy schedules, the ability to take the SAT at their school during regular school hours might also make the standardized testing process a little less onerous,” says Drew Heilpern of New Canaan-based Summit Educational Group.

One thing to consider is that while it may be a good thing students will be taking fewer tests, the SAT itself will be different⎯and more challenging.

“The SAT has been redesigned to align with the Common Core, so it will be testing the same things that the SBACs would be testing. The reading test has a lot more evidence-based questions. For instance, when students answer an inference question, they have to cite the text that they made that inference from. There’s also very advanced vocabulary, the text complexity is increased, the writing has become more of an argument essay; there will be more fluency and modeling concepts on the new math than there was before,” Smith explains.

The increased difficulty doesn’t have him concerned, though.

“We’ve done a lot of work over the years to align our curriculum and assessments to the Common Core so I’m feeling very confident that even though it’s a redesigned test and more difficult I think our kids are going to do quite well on it,” Smith adds.

SAT vs. ACT

The new test may have an implications as well on whether students choose to take another college entrance exam, the ACT, as well⎯or instead of the SAT as the test scores they submit to colleges.

“I think some tutors are advising their students to take the ACT, and to submit the ACT scores to colleges, because the SAT is a bit of an unknown at this point. Some people feel the ACT is a safer bet and they know how to prepare for it. But part of it has to do with the colleges you’re applying to and what they want–some places want the SAT, others will take the ACT.”

Leona Peiffer, the managing principal of College Nannies and Tutors says fewer kids may actually opt for the ACT, especially now that it’s being administered through the schools at no cost.

“The net result will likely be a small decrease in students taking the ACT in Connecticut. It will depend on the structure of the new SAT. Some students do poorly on the SAT only to ace the ACT. With that in mind, what if a student fails to meet the standard on the SAT yet excels on the ACT?”

Smith has his own advice.

“From my point of view, my son took both and submitted both. I think it just provides a more complete picture of what a student’s achievement levels are like.”

Either way, says Peiffer, students should just start studying early.

“Our recommendation from a tutoring perspective would be to continue to prep for the test well in advance of taking it. Practicing these exams and learning basic strategies will certainly improve outcomes. We will continue to provide free practice SAT tests to local students,” she adds.