ACT to be required for high school juniors

Bruce Schreiner
April 12, 2006

Kentucky's high school juniors would take a college entrance exam as part of the state testing system under a bill passed by the General Assembly yesterday.

The ACT would be given to 11th-graders starting in 2007 under the proposal that cleared the House on a 90-9 vote and the Senate by a 37-0 vote.

"This is one of the best proposals we've had in a long time to really help our students," said Rep. Jon Draud, R-Edgewood.

Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, a Springfield Republican and the bill's lead sponsor, said he had no problems with changes made by the House. The modified version passed the Senate without debate last night. The measure now goes to Gov. Ernie Fletcher for consideration. Spokesman Brett Hall said Fletcher is expected to sign the bill into law.

McCracken County schools Superintendent Tim Heller said he welcomed adding the ACT to the state testing, and predicted it would be well received by school officials.

"I think it's a great benchmark for us to use," he said in a phone interview. "It's a proven exam."

House supporters said making the ACT a requirement would help identify students in need of remedial help before reaching college. Too many students now enter college unprepared and many never graduate, the lawmakers said.

"We have a crisis in transition for our kids in college," said Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond.

The bill was opposed by Rep. Derrick Graham, who predicted that some 11th-graders would end up taking the ACT before receiving the necessary classwork. The results, he said, could be poor test scores that will discourage some students.

"I think this is a bad public policy," said Graham, D-Frankfort.

Graham, a schoolteacher, also said some top universities nationwide are moving away from using standardized tests for admissions.

"So once again we're lagging behind," he said.

The state would pay for the first ACT exam. Students retaking the test would, in some cases, pay the fees.

Kelly said adding the ACT exam would give students a stake in the state testing and would help parents monitor their progress.

Also under the bill, high school sophomores, juniors and seniors could take another exam, called WorkKeys, to test their skills and knowledge for the workplace.

Heller said the work-skills exam recognizes not all students are college bound.

"Finding out their aptitude and interest can help us place some of our youngsters and give them greater opportunity," he said.

The state budget that passed the General Assembly includes $1.4 million to pay for the ACT and WorkKeys exams.

Another part of the bill would require Kentucky's eighth- and 10th-graders to take readiness examinations as part of the state testing system. The first test would help determine whether eighth-graders are ready for high school. The test for 10th-graders would be a precursor to the ACT, to determine whether students are on the path toward college readiness.