In September, Alabama joined five other states in announcing it would move to underwriting every high school student taking the ACT. Kansas should too.
The ACT is the most common academic aptitude test in the United States. It is accepted by more colleges and universities than any other test (the other major test is the SAT). Last year, it was taken by over 1.4 million high school students. The non-profit ACT organization provides substantial data for both the student and the state to compare statistics.
Last year, 23,147 Kansas students paid to take the ACT test. For Kansas to pick up the tab for all 43,279 students would be a big cost savings if we could, like Alabama and other states, cancel the much larger number of costly assessments Kansas currently administers.
How much does the ACT cost? According to the ACT website: “The 2009–2010 basic registration fee is $32.00, which includes sending score reports to up to four college choices. The basic registration fee for the ACT Plus Writing is $47.00.”
More important than the money saved by reducing assessment to just the ACT and a few pre-ACT tests is the time spent both teaching-to and giving the endless assessments that have multiplied under QPA and NCLB. In Kansas last year, we gave 253,325 reading exams, 254,138 math exams, 122,908 science exams, and 108,068 history/government exams! This takes up huge resources, both money in constantly redeveloping and giving the tests, and student time away from learning while taking the tests.
Currently, Kansas students lose weeks to this over-testing. How much time does the ACT take? Again, from the ACT website: “...Just over 4 hours for the ACT without the Writing Test, including administration instructions and breaks. Actual testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes, broken down as follows: English: 45 minutes; Math: 60 minutes; Reading: 35 minutes; Science: 35 minutes. The ACT Writing Test adds 30 minutes to the testing time.” And the ACT is only administered on six dates nationwide in September, October, December, February, April, and June. Many students take the ACT twice, once as juniors and again as seniors. Replacing 738,439 student tests with just 43,000 ACT tests (or 86,000 if they all take it twice) will “take back the night” in classrooms, ending the last decade of assembly-line test-prep mentality.
Alabama is joining Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Wyoming in providing the ACT to all of its students. In doing so, Alabama is able to dump its high-stakes exit exam and free its teachers to return to creative teaching rather than drill-for-the-test. These states discovered that when they underwrite all students taking the ACT, some students who were not considering attending college discover they have high scores and are college ready.
The ACT provides nationwide comparative data, including subscores in English, Math and Reading that are useful to both students and school officials. Additional scores are available for science and writing. ACT analysis of Kansas scores found 26 percent of the Kansas test-takers were ready for college compared to 23 percent of students nationwide. Kansas rates were higher in English and mathematics, and lower in science where Kansas is only now beginning to implement the 3-sciences-to-graduate requirement found in most states.
I am not a friend to standardization or the testing industry that has recently driven our curricula. But the ACT is an aptitude test that is difficult to teach-to. And the ACT can achieve a 90 percent draw down in class time lost to testing. Right now, ending overtesting is a good place to save money.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.