Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers announced today the Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) intention to pursue funding for universal ACT testing beginning in 2014-2015. The Governor and legislature need to grant this request.
Evers is proposing to use the ACT to satisfy state and federal testing requirements once the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam is phased out. The move, advocated by yours truly for some time, is not surprising. Wisconsin’s approved No Child Left Behind waiver included the state’s intention to begin universal ACT testing if funding was provided.
The $7 million price tag would significantly increase total state spending on standardized testing, but it should not be a barrier. Seven million dollars is a drop in the bucket considering Wisconsin spends several billion dollars annually on K-12 education. More important, it is an extremely smart investment.
First, it will give Wisconsin citizens an accurate view of how well state schools are preparing students for life after high school. As I have pointed out before, the state’s current high ACT scores can be misleading. Less than two-thirds of Wisconsin juniors take the test, and districts with low participation rates generally have more low-income and minority students, and lower levels of math and reading proficiency. In other words, ACT test scores underrepresent the students Wisconsin’s public education system often struggles to educate.
Second, the ACT, by virtue of being a national test, will allow for improved state-to-state performance comparisons. Wisconsin graduates compete with students from across the nation for jobs and higher education opportunities, yet our current assessment system tells us little about how individual school and student performance measures up with schools in other states.
Third, it will ensure all students are taking a test that is a prerequisite for admittance to a four-year university. Certainly there will be students that take the newly required ACT and end up college that would not have in prior years. Given the importance of increasing the number of college graduates to our state’s economy, this is an unequivocal good.
Fourth, DPI’s proposal also calls for the use of ACT’s Explore and Plan tests. These tests, given to 8th, 9th and 10th grades students, will give teachers and principals valuable information about the college readiness of pupils well before they take the ACT. Thus, teachers and principals will have time to plan and execute interventions that can increase college readiness.
Tony Evers and DPI deserve kudos for pushing increased use of ACT testing; the $7 million dollars to pay for it needs to be a budget priority. Improved assessment policies will give Wisconsinites better information about their K-12 education system, and give teachers quality data on which to base education decisions that can ultimately improve student outcomes.