Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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Nebraska juniors will take the ACT on April 19

Every high school junior in Nebraska will take the ACT college entrance exam on Wednesday, April 19, reports The Thunderbeat, the student newspaper at Bellevue West Senior High School.

The test is required because the state hopes it can use the results to meet federal accountability requirements for high school students, gradually replacing the Nebraska State Accountability tests, or NeSA. But Brooke Riley, the editor-in-chief at the paper, opines that taking advantage of the state-paid college entrance exam is good for the students as well as the state’s requirements under the law.

Compared to the NeSA, the mandatory ACT has a real purpose. A majority of colleges, especially in the Midwest, look at students’ ACT scores before considering them for admission. This test would affect students more than just giving them a chance for open-campus lunch.

The ACT with writing costs $58.50 but on April 19, the state will pay for every junior’s test. For some students it’s hard to make ends meet, let alone pay for a standardized test. With this free test, everyone has the same opportunity to send in a college entrance exam.

The contract between Nebraska and ACT calls for the state to pay $47 per student for the test this spring. A few other states pay for every student to take a college entrance exam, hoping to supplant state tests used for federal accountability requirements.

One issue that has come up, though, is that ACT Inc (or the College Board for the SAT in states like Illinois this year) will not release technical details about the test that are usually required for all tests used by states for federal accountability purposes. The content of the tests is considered proprietary and won’t be released or subjected to review by testing experts.

Based on a peer review of Wisconsin’s assessment system, the ACT only partially meets the federal government’s requirements for reading, language arts, and mathematics assessments, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported in January. The state will have to provide “substantial additional information” to become compliant, according to a letter from the federal education department to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Some school districts in Maryland—notably Prince George’s and Baltimore counties in the past—will pay for every junior to take the SAT this spring anyway, despite the fact that the test doesn’t fully comply with federal accountability requirements. As a result of the noncompliance, students will still need one other high school test in math, one in English, and one in science to be in full compliance with federal law.

The letter to Wisconsin threatened certain restrictions on federal grant money if the state doesn’t bring its testing program into full compliance, although money has never been taken away from a state for that reason in the 15-year history of standardized testing being used for meeting federal accountability requirements.

But the recognition, as seen in Ms Riley’s editorial from Nebraska, that having the state pay for a college entrance exam for students brings more benefits that giving juniors at Bellevue West a chance for open-campus lunch is potentially fruitful in terms of shaping laws in the future.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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