Missouri to offer free ACT to juniors

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

11th graders to take free exam April 28

Missouri is one of five states that will start offering the ACT exam for free to 11th-graders in the spring.

"I think it's going to be a good idea to test all of our 11th-graders," said Mike Evans, the principal of Wheaton Junior High School and Senior High School. "With the ACT, it's a test that most people are familiar with the results of. Those people know what the scores mean as far as levels of readiness for students.

"It also gives us some useful data as we look at improving our school and improving our curriculum. It gives us some useful data back on where we are strong and where we are doing a good job, and in those areas that we want to spend a little time looking at and working at a little harder to make sure we have our kids prepared for college."

Wheaton High School has 23 juniors, Evans said.

The Southwest School District, which has its high school in Washburn, pays for an ACT (the non-writing version) for students in either their junior or senior years, said Tosha Watson, the Southwest High School principal. The district will continue to pay for the ACT exams. The high school has 50 juniors and 54 seniors.

If students are on free or reduced lunches, they can receive fee waivers on two tests, Watson said. By the time they graduate from high school, they could take up to four free tests.

Every 11th-grader who goes to schools regulated by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will take the ACT (the writing version) on April 28, said Sarah Potter, the communication coordinator for DESE. The makeup exam is May 12.

"The department staff and our education association partners wanted a measure of college and career readiness using a test that mattered to students," Potter said. "ACT is an exam and a score that will stay with the student whether they decide to pursue additional education immediately after high school graduation or years later."

The ACT tests a student's proficiency in math, science, reading and English. The fee for the non-writing version is $38. The fee for the writing version is $54.50.

Missouri received a discount for the writing version, which each 11th-grader will take.

The state has a three-year contract. The first year is $49 per test, the second year is $50 per test and the third year is $51 per test. The total costs over the three-year period are $11,751,731.

"Ultimately, Missouri's goal is to become a top-10 state for education by 2020," Potter said. "If student achievement continues to improve, we will know we are on the right track."

More than 1.84 million 2014 graduates took the ACT, an increase of 3 percent from 2013, and an 18 percent increase over 2010, according to an Aug. 20 press release from the Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT.

The other four states that will start adopting statewide testing for all high school juniors in 2015 are Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada and Wisconsin, according to ACT documents.

The following states have adopted statewide testing for all high school juniors: Colorado (2001), Illinois (2001), Kentucky (2007), Michigan (2007), Wyoming (2007), North Dakota (2009), Tennessee (2009), North Carolina (2012), Hawaii (2013), Louisiana (2013), Montana (2013), Utah (2013) and Alabama (2014). All juniors take either the ACT or ACT WorkKeys assessments in North Dakota. Illinois has opted to fund the statewide testing but optional by district starting in spring 2015.

"The data show encouraging growth in the eight states that have been administering the ACT to all students for multiple years as part of their statewide assessment programs (Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming)," according to the press release from ACT. "Each of those states showed higher average ACT composite scores this year, with five of those states improving by a noteworthy margin (0.2 to 0.3 point) compared to last year."

When a state initiates the free statewide testing, it is not unusual to see the composite score for that state decrease for the first one or two years, said Katie Wacker, an ACT spokesperson. The composite is the average of the four subject matters: Math, science, reading and English.

"Prior to statewide testing, those taking the college entrance exam were those who truly had college aspirations; and therefore, they were paying their own way, and they self-selected to be part of the scoring that we announce every year this time of year," Wacker said. "But once the state says, 'OK, we're going to test every junior,' even those who may not at the moment have aspirations to go to a two- or a four-year college, then that can bring the overall composite score down slightly, initially."

If students want to take another ACT, they can take it on any national test day scheduled on various Saturdays throughout the year.

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