Senate committee advances bill to fund ACT for all students

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013 5:40 p.m. MST

Since 2010, high school students have taken the ACT through a statewide pilot program, with end-of-year Criterion Referenced Tests being used to meet the state's basic skills requirement. In 2012, Utah's average ACT score was the second highest in the country when compared with the 10 states where more than 95 percent of students took the test.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to fund the ACT for all high school students, as well as create an online program for college test preparation, unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, would clear up the language in state statute, establishing a requirement for all students to take a college readiness test and provide ongoing funding for the test's administration.

Stephenson said states that have already implemented universal ACT testing policies have seen substantial benefits. He said students who struggle in their coursework have been surprised and inspired by their ACT scores, which often motivates them to consider a college education.

"Suddenly their lives change because they had been looking at themselves as somebody who is not very smart, not qualified for college," he said. "Their counselors, their teachers, their parents and the students themselves suddenly realize that they do have what it takes. They just haven't sometimes been jumping through the hoops required in a classroom setting."

Last year, a bill to require a college readiness assessment — such as the ACT or SAT — for all high school students stalled and failed to pass before the 2012 legislative session adjourned. The bill was designed to replace the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test, which was retired in 2010 despite the requirement for such a test remaining in state statute.

Since 2010, high school students have taken the ACT through a statewide pilot program, with end-of-year Criterion Referenced Tests being used to meet the state's basic skills requirement. In 2012, Utah's average ACT score was the second highest in the country when compared with the 10 states where more than 95 percent of students took the test.

The bill was one of the highest legislative priorities of the Utah State Board of Education, with education officials saying the ongoing administration of an assessment like the ACT would lead to increased accountability of school performance and a better indicator of student college preparation.

The bill calls for an ongoing appropriation of $850,000 to fund the administration of the exam and to create an online program to help students prepare to take the test.

State Superintendent Martell Menlove expressed concern that funding could be insufficient to provide testing preparation access to all students. But Stephenson said he had looked at several similar programs and was confident a high-quality, low-cost option could be found.

"I’ve looked at different providers, and I know there are some very high-priced preparation companies," he said. "I’ve also seen others that seem to be very high quality but low cost, and I’m hoping that we could cover it for this appropriation and not spend a lot of money."

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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