LINCOLN–When all juniors in Nebraska high schools take the ACT exam this fall, it will mark a change in state testing requirements that many see as a positive for students in Nebraska.
Under Legislative Bill 390, signed into law in March, the state’s 11th graders will take the ACT instead of the previously required Nebraska State Accountability test.
According to the Nebraska Department of Education, the ACT will be a more accurate measure of student achievement, while giving every student an opportunity to improve their college readiness.
“The selection of ACT represents our continued effort to provide equal opportunities across the state,” said Nebraska director of education Matthew Blomstedt in a press release in early September.
One of the main benefits for high school students is that they will no longer have to pay a registration fee for the ACT, allowing students of all income levels access to the test. The test will cost the state $47 per student, which is almost the same cost as administering the NeSA test, according to the Nebraska Department of Education. The total cost will be just over $1 million.
According to ACT, Inc., the nonprofit organization that created and administers the exam, 86 percent of high school graduates in Nebraska took the ACT in 2014, while the national average is only about 57 percent. Part of the reason for the lower national average is the prevalence of the SAT exam, which is more common on the west and east coasts.
Seventy-six percent of those who took the ACT in Nebraska went on to enroll in some sort of post-secondary institution.
One of ACT, Inc.’s primary goals is to increase college readiness and help more students enroll in college.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 69.2 percent of 2015 high school graduates in the United States enrolled in some sort of post-secondary education. But that does not paint the full picture. Though nearly seven out of 10 high school graduates begin attending colleges and universities, the retention rate is fairly low, with as many as a one third of college freshmen not returning for their sophomore years.
ACT, Inc., is also concerned that even though more students are being tested, fewer students overall are meeting certain benchmarks set by the organization. It leads to students being less college ready. So even if they do enroll in a college or university, they will be overwhelmed by the challenges and will not succeed.
Community college students are particularly vulnerable, according to ACT, Inc., which said only 28 percent of students in two-year institutions and community colleges obtained a degree within eight years of enrolling.
“Until states require higher academic standards in the K-12 system, we will continue to see more students falling behind academically in earlier grades,” a report by ACT, Inc., said.
ACT, Inc. and the Department of Education will be able to better examine students in Nebraska because 100 percent of students will take the test, assuming no students opt out.
Michelle Croft, a research associate for ACT, Inc., said in a report that when more students take standardized tests, whether it be the ACT or any state-level test, it will help schools better understand their students.
“Student assessment data allows for rigorous examination of programs and policies to ensure that resources are allocated towards what works,” Croft said.
According to the Department of Education, the statewide ACT will also allow Nebraska to compare itself to other states in the region that have similar policies, such as Colorado and Missouri.
Though the ACT will help high school students and administrators evaluate college readiness for 11th graders, the state will continue to use the NeSA test for third and eighth graders across the state, as required by federal law.