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Lawmakers consider making all students take ACT

Published June 15, 2011 7:15 pm

Education • Bill would create special diploma depending on test performance.
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All Utah high school students soon could get the chance to take the ACT on the state's dime if a proposed bill becomes law.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, has agreed to sponsor a state school board-supported bill during the next legislative session that would require schools to give a college admissions test, such as the ACT, to all students. The Education Interim Committee also voted Wednesday to support the concept.

As part of the proposed bill, which is now in draft form, the state school board would also create a special type of high school diploma that students could earn depending on their performance on the test.

The board also hopes to give two other tests — the EXPLORE to eighth-graders and the PLAN to 10th-graders — to help prepare them for college and the ACT. The ACT would likely be given to 11th- or 12th-graders. The proposed cost for the changes would be about $2.2 million.

"The state board wanted assessments to be more meaningful to students and parents and more useful for teachers," said Dave Thomas, a state school board member. "In order to meet our future economic needs, we need to get more public school students to go to college."

Thomas said the tests could boost the number of Utah high school graduates who go on to college.

In Utah, 71 percent of graduating seniors in 2010 took the ACT. This past school year, more than 80 Utah high schools offered the ACT for free to juniors as part of a state pilot program, but the proposed bill would expand the ACT to all high schools. The ACT would replace the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT), which students had taken before graduating from high school before it was temporarily suspended.

"I think this is such an important move," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. "Students who may not take the ACT because they don't know if they're going to college may find out their skills are quite good and quite adequate."

Some lawmakers, however, were wary of the idea of giving differentiated diplomas to students. Some said they worried it would send the wrong message to students not scoring high enough to get the special diploma that they shouldn't bother going to college.

Ultimately, it will be up to lawmakers next year whether the bill passes.

Lawmakers also discussed a second state school board-supported bill Wednesday that would change the way Utah students are tested. The proposed bill would, by 2014-15 and at an additional cost of $5.3 million, replace current state tests given in the spring — Criterion Referenced Tests, or CRTs — with computer adaptive tests which adjust in difficulty as students take them to gauge their strengths and weaknesses.

Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, has agreed to sponsor that bill next session, but the committee didn't have enough members present Wednesday to vote on whether to support the concept.

The U.S. Department of Education agreed earlier this year to allow some Utah schools to switch to computer adaptive testing systems to meet the requirements of the education law, No Child Left Behind.




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