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Published in Print: March 22, 2006, as Kentucky Moves Toward College Test for All

Kentucky Moves Toward College Test for All

Bluegrass state is latest in movement toward new high school exams.

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Kentucky is on the verge of integrating a college-admissions test into its state testing system, and it may soon be followed by other states also trying to provide students with a new gateway to college.

The Kentucky Senate passed a bill this month that would adopt the ACT entrance exam as one of the tests the state gives to all 11th graders and use other products from ACT Inc. to assess whether middle school students are on track to succeed in a high school curriculum.

A key House committee approved the bill last week.

“One benefit of having everybody take the ACT is … 10 or 15 percent more students will realize: ‘Hey, I am college material,’ ” said Sen. Dan Kelly, the majority leader of the Republican-led Senate and the sponsor of the bill.

While the Kentucky bill moves through the legislature, the Kansas and Missouri state boards of education are starting to look into whether to replace their existing high school tests with the ACT.

State officials across the country are increasingly turning to college-admissions tests to measure the achievement levels and the college prospects of all their students.

Since the 2000-01 school year, all 11th graders in Colorado and Illinois have taken the ACT to measure their knowledge of English, mathematics, reading, and science. Illinois students also take reading and math versions of WorkKeys, a battery of tests that assesses students’ vocational skills. WorkKeys is published by ACT Inc., the Iowa City, Iowa-based publisher of the ACT.

Starting in the 2006-07 school year, Michigan’s high school juniors will take the ACT and the reading and math WorkKeys tests.

Maine will administer the SAT, the other national college-entrance exam, on a statewide basis for the first time April 1. Maine is the only state that gives the SAT statewide, said Brian P. O’Reilly, a spokesman for the New York City-based College Board, the test’s sponsor.

New Roles

College-bound students have historically taken the SAT or the ACT at their own expense and on their own time to satisfy colleges and universities that require one or the other of the tests as part of the admissions process.

Among seniors in the class of 2005, 1.2 million took the ACT; 1.5 million took the SAT.

States are considering adding the ACT to their testing systems because it is curriculum-based and is designed to match what most state standards expect students to learn, said Jon L. Erickson, the vice president for educational services for ACT Inc.

The close correlation between the ACT’s content and state standards means states can use the admissions test for accountability purposes under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, he added.

That appeals to policymakers in Missouri.

Educators believe that high school students don’t take the current state test seriously because it doesn’t have any stakes for them, said Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. But the state test does determine whether a high school is making adequate yearly progress under the federal law.

As for the SAT, although it was devised to measure students’ reasoning ability and continues to do so, recent studies have shown that the test also is effective at assessing students’ knowledge of subject matter, Mr. O’Reilly of the College Board said.

Complete Set

In Kentucky, the state is planning to do more than use the ACT.

Under a contract approved by the state legislature committee that oversees competitively bid contracts last week, separately from Sen. Kelly’s legislation, the state would use ACT Inc.’s Education Planning and Assessment System in 8th grade and 10th grade in addition to existing tests in the state’s Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS.

Mr. Kelly’s bill would add those 8th grade and 10th grade tests from ACT Inc. to the law that governs the CATS program and would instruct the state education department to adopt the ACT admissions exam for 11th graders.

The bill would eliminate a norm-referenced test now given as part of CATS. Mr. Kelly says that test takes more time and its results are based on an outdated sample of test-takers, making its national comparisons inaccurate.

Giving other ACT exams in 8th grade and 10th grade would help educators prepare individualized plans for students who are falling behind, he said.

Under the House bill, the state would start giving the ACT Inc. tests in the 2007-08 school year. Although the bill that passed the Senate calls for waiting until the 2008-09 school year to give the ACT to 11th graders, Mr. Kelly said he would endorse the House’s timetable in working out a compromise.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican, endorses Mr. Kelly’s bill, his press secretary said.

While Kentucky is nearing the formal adoption of the ACT, Missouri and Kansas are beginning to consider the switch.

At its meeting last week, the Missouri state education board heard a committee report recommending the adoption of a college-admissions test. The board scheduled a series of public hearings on the proposal next month.

The board may act on a plan as early as May, said Mr. Morris.

Also last week, the Kansas state board of education discussed using the ACT in its testing system for the first time, and it is seriously considering the idea, said David S. Awbrey, a spokesman for the state education department. But it hasn’t set a timetable for acting on the idea, he added.

Vol. 25, Issue 28, Pages 28,30

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