By Lauren DiSpirito

DENVER (CBS4) – Following backlash from parents and students, the Colorado Department of Education board announced Monday it will to continue to administer the ACT college entrance exam to high school juniors for free this year and wait until next year to transition to the new SAT exam.

Last month, the decision to switch from the ACT to SAT college entrance exam caused an outcry from some parents, students and school officials, who felt surprised and angered that the change would come late in the school year after many students had already begun preparing to take the ACT.

“Our high school juniors can take the assessment they’ve been preparing for, and we will work with districts, educators and the College Board to create a smooth transition to the SAT in 2017,” said Interim Education Commissioner Elliott Asp in a news release Monday.

For the last 14 years Colorado has administered the ACT to students seeking college admission. A new state law passed in May, however, now requires the Colorado Department of Education to go through a competitive process every five years, seeking bids from testing vendors before deciding which college entrance exam it will offer.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

According to a CDE spokeswoman, a 15-member selection committee of educators and district administrators from communities across Colorado and a single CDE representative made the decision to switch to SAT. The board awarded a five-year contract to College Board to issue the PSAT and SAT to 10th- and 11th-graders. She said the committee selected SAT “for its alignment to the Colorado Academic Standards and the free test preparation support it provides to students.”

For students applying to college, Poudre Schools Assessment and School Support Coordinator John Passantino says college entrance exams offer some of the highest stakes. Scores greatly affect the admissions process, and colleges across the U.S. have different requirements when it comes to what test they accept.

In the past, Colorado students who chose to take the SAT exam did so privately, and at their own cost.

“It was an unexpected change,” said Passantino, who after the state’s decision fielded calls from concerned parents and students.

He called the state’s decision Monday to let this year’s junior class take the test they’d expected to take, the ACT, a fair one.

“It’s a very good decision,” Passantino said, “It does create a transition for 11th-graders so those who were preparing do not have to worry.”

This year, 10th-graders will have the opportunity to take the PSAT, a qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship program. Passantino says that will help prepare next year’s 11th-graders for the new test they will be administered. He agrees with CDE officials that moving to the SAT will be a transition for Colorado’s students, and educators. The state has been able to track how students performed on the ACT over time. Now they’ll be starting over with a new exam.

“We’re going to have to adapt to a new test and new scores to learn what they’re telling us about how our kids are prepared for post-secondary (education),” Passantino said, adding optimistically: “It’s going to be a good transition and a smooth transition.”

Passantino expects more than 1,900 Poudre School District juniors will take the ACT this spring.

Lauren DiSpirito is CBS4’s Northern Newsroom reporter. Follow her on Twitter @CBS4Lauren. Share your story ideas with her here.

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