Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Carrots in Wyoming

AP reports that Wyoming will pick up the tab of any high school juniors in the state who take the ACT. The article states two thirds of Wyoming high schoolers currently take the test. The effort here is threefold. One, to get students to attempt to qualify for a state sponsored scholarship. Two, as Illinois and Colorado already do, to measure academic progress or achievement or however you want to qualify the stuff that happens in school. Three, the effort hopes to get more juniors taking the tes--currently the number is much lower than the two thirds figure measuring all high schoolers who take the test.

The idea is laudable and carries import, mostly because one would think that if students took the test and scored well then they might pursue college. And to Wyoming's credit they have paired this program with a scholarship incentive--for community college students and four year college students. If Wyoming really wanted this program to have some teeth they would make it a requirement. Since the test will still be optional, we're talking carrots not sticks. Which is fine if that is what Wyoming thinks is best for its students, but it sounds more like a political decision than anything. It will be interesting to see how many students still don't take the test even with the cultural shift (anyone who wants to take the "free ACT" will do it on the same day) and the $30 waiver.

Numbers published by ACT show some success in the programs in Illinois and Colorado: after the first year of implementation the number of in-state, ACT-tested fall freshmen enrolled in Illinois colleges (2002) was up by 24 percent compared to the previous year. The state's average ACT composite score rose from 20.1 in 2002 to 20.2 in 2003, even though the number of students tested increased. Inside Higher ED makes a cogent point about these tests being used as assessment however. There are complications to laying a test down overtop of a curriculum not designed to match.

It's obvious that mandatory ACT seems like a simple and cost effective state solution to getting more kids to go to college. The danger lies in using the test to assess and hold schools and students accountable. Wyoming seems to have struck some balance, but they would do better, at least by ACT's numbers, to make the tests mandatory. Of course these numbers published by ACT should be verified by an outside source before we get too far down the road of flying the ACT flag on the pole of every high school in America.


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