McGee: Groundbreaking high school
test will give all students tools for future

June 19, 2000 

(312) 814-3490 or (217) 782-4648
ACT Contacts:  Ken Gullette
Kelley Hayden
 (319) 337-1028

Chicago – Illinois eleventh graders next year will get valuable information to help plan their future from a groundbreaking new breed of state assessment.

The new Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) will test students’ mastery of the Illinois Learning Standards by combining state-designed exams, a leading college entrance exam and tests of workplace knowledge and skills. State Superintendent of Education Glenn W. McGee announced the PSAE today at a news conference at Dunbar Vocational Career Academy in Chicago.

“Our students will benefit tremendously from the kind of information Prairie State results will provide them,  McGee said.  “We believe this program  is an innovative approach to measuring the Standards, which we expect all of our students to meet or exceed.  It asks students to look at what they have learned from the workplace perspective as well as a post-secondary perspective. The PSAE really takes us to the next level in our efforts to make Illinois education for all children Second to None.”

The PSAE will  measure high school students’ progress in meeting the Illinois Learning Standards in reading, writing, mathematics, science and social science. The Learning Standards encompass the skills and knowledge all students will need for success after high school.

It will also include the ACT college entrance exam and two of ACT’s eight Work Keys® exams. Questions on the two WorkKeys assessments will measure students’ mathematics and reading skills when applied to workplace situations. The Work Keys system is used extensively by employers across the U.S., as the assessments measure skills necessary for success in the workplace.

“The State Board will work closely with business organizations and individual employers to promote use of the PSAE results as a hiring tool,” McGee said.

The Learning Standards were developed to ensure that all students would receive the best education possible whether they go to college or directly to work after high school, McGee said.

High school juniors must take the PSAE, which replaces the high school Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT,) but it is not a graduation exam.

The test, including the two ACT components, will be administered by local schools over two days, the fourth Wednesday and Thursday  of April beginning in 2001.

The PSAE represents the first time the ACT Assessment has been integrated with other measures to create a comprehensive statewide assessment system. “I am proud and happy to be teaming up with a company of ACT’s reputation,” McGee said.

This groundbreaking combination of assessments will help ensure all Illinois students get the same rigorous, high quality education through grade 12 they will need to be successful after high school graduation, McGee said.

Gov. George Ryan also  supports  the new test format.  “Packaging the two ACT components with the PSAE gives our students more information as they consider their options for the future, whether they plan to attend a four-year university, community college, technical school or enter the workplace directly,” Ryan said.

All students will benefit from the three-part format, McGee said. “We believe the Learning Standards encompass the skills and knowledge all of our students need,” McGee said. “If they are being taught to the Standards as every school should be doing, then the PSAE will provide a challenge our students can meet.” 

e Prairie State will have more credibility with students because it is linked to a nationally respected exam that is valued by educators, and to workplace skills assessments valued and used by thousands of employers nationwide. That new credibility in turn will yield better, more reliable data on students’ actual comprehension of the Learning Standards.

“Students will benefit in several ways from taking the ACT and Work Keys as part of the PSAE,” said Richard L. Ferguson, president of ACT, Inc.  “Some students who are not considering attending college may change their minds.

“Students will also receive information from our Interest Inventory that is useful in career planning.  The results from the exam will also enable students to evaluate any academic or workplace skill deficiencies and seek out help in those areas.”

What’s more, students will be able to take the ACT for free as part of the PSAE, meaning students for the first time will directly benefit from taking the state assessment.  Next year, the fee for the ACT Assessment will be $23.

Students will be able to retake any or all of the PSAE in 12th grade to earn the best possible scores. Their final, best scores will be noted on their permanent records. Students will earn a Prairie State Achievement Award in each of the five subject areas for which they receive a qualifying score to be set by the State Board of Education. 

As with all state assessments, special education student will not take the test if specifically exempted by their Individualized Education Program and limited-English-proficient students will also be exempt if they have been enrolled in bilingual education programs for less than three years.

The ACT Assessment will be administered nationally to more than one million high school graduating seniors this year.  Virtually all four-year colleges and universities in the nation accept ACT scores.  ACT scores are used by colleges in admissions decisions and to place students in appropriate-level courses.

Work Keys is a workplace skills assessment system used by businesses, schools and individuals to assess skills for specific jobs and identify training needs.

Work Keys is used by employers nationwide to identify the skills employees need to be successful on the job and to determine where additional training can help develop a higher caliber workforce.  School systems use Work Keys to assess students’ readiness for the workplace and evaluate curriculum to teach workplace skills.  Work Keys establishes a common language between business and education.

For more information on ACT and its programs, go to the website at

How the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) Measures Student Progress Toward the Illinois Learning Standards (ILS)

How Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) Results Are Reported