Editorial Board, Star Tribune, July 9, 2015
State lawmakers need to take another look at ACT, other tests.
In response to concerns about excessive testing, the Minnesota Legislature voted to drop the requirement that all high school juniors take the college entrance ACT exam at state expense.
Lawmakers cut the state Department of Education’s testing budget from $42 million to $22 million and reduced the total number of hours students can spend on standardized tests.
Minnesota districts, like many around the nation, indeed had experienced “test creep.’’ As they were challenged to be more accountable and improve student learning, they imposed more exams — on top of those required by state and federal rules. So reining in the number of assessments, in favor of fewer, more meaningful exams, makes sense.
However, there are questions about the way the new law addresses the issue. Eliminating the universal ACT, for example, was not the best choice. That exam is among those that are useful to students and educators in multiple ways. The new law says districts must offer the ACT only for students who ask for it. And it’s unclear whether the $3 million the state allocated will cover that cost.
Even before Minnesota required the ACT and offered aid, some local districts began to offer it to all juniors. Research from other states shows the benefits. Making the ACT or SAT available to all teens increases the number of kids who start thinking about career options earlier, and who apply for college or other postsecondary options.
Access to the test is also a matter of equity. Requiring the tests can open opportunities for lower-income students who might not have considered the exam because of its $54 cost and for those who could benefit from being encouraged to explore postsecondary education of some sort.
Under the new law, students are limited to no more than 10-11 hours of test-taking annually unless school boards and teachers agree to do more. The law also adds a high school writing test, which seems contrary to the goal of test reduction.
Some statute provisions were added in the waning days of the session and came as a surprise to districts and even education department officials. Lawmakers should consider revisiting testing rules next year.