The ACT for all Nebraskans

by John Baylor

This past spring Nebraska became the 16th state to mandate that all juniors take the ACT college admissions test. Now all our 11th graders take a standardized test that can help them -- higher ACT scores trigger better scholarships and better college options. Increasing that ACT score should be the best paying job a high school student ever has.

Still, one superintendent recently suggested to me that the ACT means no more than the old NESA tests for juniors headed to community college.  Such ACT apathy would evaporate if juniors just knew that a solid ACT typically waives a student out of all remedial classes.  "When looking at only community college students, several studies have found remediation rates surpassing 50%. Less than 25% of these remedial students at community colleges earn a certificate or degree within eight years." (http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/improving-college-completion-reforming-remedial.aspx).  So mandating the ACT is one way to precipitously decrease remedial class enrollment in our two- and four-year colleges.  Parents of college-bound students need to know how to avoid remedial classes, including how preparing for and taking an ACT can accomplish that critical goal.  Further, many Nebraska community colleges give scholarships based on ACT scores.

Plus this mandated April ACT provides one free ACT for all students and a third free ACT for low-income students.  Thankfully the $42.50 cost of taking an ACT is no longer a barrier for our lower-income students. 

But what will make this policy transformative is if it triggers a statewide effort to create more two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt.  Right now 44% of Nebraska’s adults have a two- or four-year college degree.  Imagine the effect state-wide if we increase that number to 54%, 64% or 74%, arming more of our millennials with the skills and knowledge necessary today to compete.  Mandating the ACT can help accomplish that goal.

And yes Nebraska's 21.4 average ACT score with 89% taking the test will fall about a full point with 100% taking the test, but the benefits are clear.  More students will care about this test, creating better data for educators to use and better results for families to leverage into the best-fit college for their student.

But step one in communicating that this mandated ACT is not merely a NESA replacement, that it is part of a bigger plan to ensure more K-12 students become two- or four-year college graduates with minimal debt, is to report only each student's best composite ACT score.  Since colleges will consider only the highest composite score-- not just the April, junior-year score-- let's do the same.  Including only the highest score when determining each school's and our state's average ACT score will also encourage educators to push their seniors to keep taking the test and increasing their scores.

Having a test for juniors that can change their future helps.  Making sure the mandated ACT is part of a bigger plan to send each student to her best-fit college at the right price and to graduate with minimal debt would transform Nebraska.

 

 
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