BISMARCK — High school juniors in North Dakota will not be required to take the ACT college entrance exam due to legislation adopted by the Legislature.
Senate Bill 2141, introduced by Sen. Donald Schaible, R-Mott, passed with a unanimous vote in the Senate and an 88-3 vote in the House.
Sen. Kyle Davison, R-Fargo, said the bill gives more options for students when applying for schools and scholarships. “We’re just trying to give schools more flexibility,” Davison said.
Stanley Schauer, director of assessment of the Department of Public Instruction, said removing the mandate opens pathways for students, including those who want to enter the workforce right after graduation. For a majority of juniors, testing will look the same as in previous years.
North Dakota schools use an accountability system that measures students’ academic progress.
Districts have the option to use the ACT instead of the North Dakota State Assessment in high school. Students from districts that utilize the NDSA as the accountability tool had to take both assessments by law.
Students from ACT districts would take the test as normal.
The DPI reports that in the 2020-21 school year, 59 districts chose to use the ACT for their accountability tool. This equated to 67% of juniors in the state. Schauer said this number has been on the rise.
Beulah Public Schools Superintendent Travis Jordan said he would like to see less emphasis on college entrance exams overall. He said there should be more focus on the student as an individual.
“I think we put too many eggs in our test score basket when our kids are trying to get into college, especially when they have so many talents, abilities and passions that aren’t measured by a test,” Jordan said. “I think kids are more than a test score.”
Lisa Johnson, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs in the NDUS, said it is still too early to tell how the bill could affect higher education. Since ACT testing was canceled last March due to the pandemic, universities have temporarily waived their score requirement for admissions through summer 2022.
“We’re using this as an opportunity to sort of study how students did with or without ACT scores and asking if our standardized test scores are still necessary,” Johnson said. “There’s actually a national movement of stepping away from the requirement. We’re certainly exploring that but also just using this as a period of study to examine what we might want to do as a policy going forward.”
The bill received mixed reviews. One concern is families not being able to afford the test. While the state would still cover tests that are used for accountability, students whose school uses the NDSA would have to pay $70 if they wanted to take the full ACT.
Schauer said cost shouldn’t be a problem since the test has a fee waiver process for low-income families. According to the ACT website, students who meet one or more indicators of economic need, like being enrolled in a reduced-price lunch program, are eligible.
“We have heard that from some schools but I don't think cost is going to be a huge issue,” Schauer said. “I think sharing more about the program could alleviate some of those concerns.”
While it is no longer required by law, Johnson still encourages students to take the ACT if it is available. She said the test score goes beyond admissions and is utilized for class placement and scholarship eligibility.
“At present, so many scholarship opportunities are tied to ACT scores that I just wouldn’t want a student to inadvertently place themselves at a disadvantage,” Johnson said.
Alexandra Kautzman is a reporting intern with the North Dakota Newspaper Association.