ACT change has some Minnesota educators worried

Published 8:56 am Monday, September 29, 2014

By Christopher Magan

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Every Minnesota high school junior will take the ACT in April at the state’s expense, thanks to legislation passed in 2013 that still has some educators scratching their heads.

Email newsletter signup

The college-entrance exam and other ACT-prep tests are part of a $13.5 million effort to assess students’ “college and career readiness.” The Iowa-based testing giant was the only bidder to provide the assessments required by the “World’s Best Workforce” legislation passed last year.

The tests replace the Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma, or GRAD, that lawmakers phased out. Minnesota is the 12th state to give every high school student the ACT and one of a handful of states to require it for graduation.

That requirement doesn’t sit well with everyone.

Lakeville school board members debated the merits of requiring the college-entrance test, ahead of a required public hearing to discuss the district’s college- and career-readiness plans. Board member Michelle Volk questioned why there was no way for parents to opt out of the test if their child already had taken it or they felt it was unnecessary.

“If a parent decides what is in the best interest of their student, there should be a way the state of Minnesota should allow this district to allow that child to graduate,” Volk said.

Kevin McHenry, the Minnesota Department of Education’s assistant commissioner overseeing testing, said state officials have heard concerns from some school leaders and are looking at options.

Changes likely will require approval by the Legislature.

“That’s one of the things we are actively looking at to see what type of special circumstances there might be,” McHenry said.

Beyond the difficulty of mandating a new test for graduation, other education advocates worry that requiring students to take another test might not be the best way to guarantee they are college- and career-ready.

When lawmakers voted to require the ACT, the initial hope was that the test would replace both the GRAD and the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, required under federal accountability rules.

In August, three months after the state inked the $13.5 million deal with ACT, the Department of Education released a short study that found the ACT was not sufficiently aligned with state education standards. That means students still have to take MCAs in reading, math and science in addition to the new ACT tests.