Educators back requirement that all juniors take the ACT

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 13, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Local school officials say the state’s move to require all high school juniors to take a college entrance exam is a good one.
Students will begin taking the ACT, an aptitude test that measures reasoning and verbal abilities, in March.
It won’t cost them or individual school systems a dime, but the state will shell out about $5.5 million for the effort, which includes a diagnostic test called PLAN for sophomores and a standardized exam to determine the work force readiness of seniors with a career and technical focus through WorkKeys.
“When you look at the amount of money the state is spending, it throws up a red flag,” said Kevin Taylor, assistant principal of instruction at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis. “But I think the benefits students will reap and the ability that we’ll have as a school to formatively assess how we’re doing to prepare them will be worth it.
“I don’t think the state is wasting its money.”
• • •
Traditionally, students who take the ACT pay between $34 and nearly $50, depending on whether they opt to participate in the writing portion.
Most colleges require the ACT or SAT for admission, but school officials said the ACT tests a wider range of knowledge.
“It measures how they’ve done in their courses,” said Kathy McDuffie, director of secondary education for the Rowan-Salisbury School System. “It’s supposed to be a better measure of what they’re actually taught.”
The ACT includes English, math, reading, science and writing, while the SAT tests critical reasoning, math and writing. The exam also has an interest inventory that helps students evaluate possible careers.
It’s accepted at all colleges and universities in the United States.
Taylor said the ACT has been a “proven indicator of college and career readiness.”
“It will kind of give students a jumping off point as to what their strengths and weaknesses are,” he said.
That’s something every student can benefit from, whether they are college bound or not, Taylor said.
“Students will be able to gauge where they are, where they stand,” he said.
In the future, Taylor said, the ACT scores can be used to tweak instruction and plan staff development to strengthen subject areas in which students scored poorly.
“In terms of the school, it will give us a real good assessment of how we’re doing at preparing students for the 21st century,” he said.
The scores can also be used during student advising.
“Sometimes kids don’t think about college because they struggle in class, but I think the state is hoping if they see their scores on the ACT, more kids will understand that college is an option for a wider range of students,” McDuffie said.
McDuffie said students who would succeed in college are oftentimes stunted by preconceived notions that they aren’t college bound.
“These scores will provide a tool to show students what they are capable of instead of a counselor just saying they have some abilities,” she said. “It will help them see the possibilities down the road.”
Taylor said a high score could also give students the confidence boost they need to take higher-level courses, which could also change their minds about college.
• • •
But some schools are making SAT and ACT scores an optional part of their admissions process.
Wake Forest University ditched the requirement in 2008, becoming the first highly ranked university in the nation to take the plunge.
The university’s admissions website states if students do not feel their scores accurately represent their academic abilities they should not submit them.
More than 850 four-year colleges are now test-optional.
McDuffie said although the scores are still a requirement at most colleges, they are still only one factor.
“I think for many years, they were very important because they were a deciding factor, but I do see colleges making changes,” she said.
McDuffie said it’s not practical to think a college would either admit or deny someone based solely on test scores. Overall high school performance, extracurricular activities and community involvement also play important roles.
“I think they’re great tools, but I don’t think they’re the only tools,” she said. “They are one of many.”
Taylor agrees, saying the tests are a “piece to the puzzle.”
“If you look at them in isolation, you’re missing the big picture, but I do think it gives colleges another piece of information to use,” he said.
But McDuffie said the tests do serve an important purpose because the rigor of high school courses vary from school to school.
“The SAT and ACT level the playing field,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
Facebook: Sarah.SalisburyPost

About the ACT

• The test includes 75 English, 60 math, 40 reading and 40 science questions.
• It takes more than four hours to take the ACT.
• The ACT is not an aptitude test; it’s curriculum based.
• The ACT also provides test takers with an interest inventory that offers information for career and educational planning and a student profile section that gives a comprehensive profile of a student’s work in high school.
• The highest available score is a 36.
• The test has been administered since 1959.
• Twenty-seven states have more than 50 percent of high school graduates who take the ACT.
• Scores are accepted at all universities and colleges in the United States.