ACT requirement could boost college apps

A new requirement that takes effect this school year requires high school juniors to take the college readiness exam.

by Taylor Nachtigal

For almost a decade, Minnesota has been a leader in average ACT scores among high school students.

Now, a state requirement mandates that all high school juniors take the test in order to graduate this year — a policy change that lawmakers, educators and University of Minnesota officials say might have an effect on college application rates but will likely not affect the state’s average scores.

The new requirement, which will provide the test to students free of charge, passed during Minnesota’s 2013 legislative session as an attempt to prepare all high school graduates for the transition to college, said Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, one of the bill’s authors.

Despite a larger pool of students taking the test, Larry Pogemiller, commissioner for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said he is “optimistic” Minnesota’s scores will remain high, based on other states that require all juniors to take the test.

In 12 states, all 2014 high school graduates took the ACT, according to ACT data.

“It has not affected the overall scores that much,” Pogemiller said.

While officials do not foresee a major rise or fall in the state’s composite ACT score, Rachelle Hernandez, University associate vice provost for enrollment management and director of admissions, said the requirement could affect the number of applications colleges receive and the competition among applicants at the University could increase.

Overall, she said the new requirement is helpful.

“Research suggests that taking the ACT or SAT can be one of the biggest [barriers] to applying to college for many first generation and low-income students. This could mean a real opportunity to increase the pipeline of college ready Minnesota students,” Hernandez said in an email statement.

For the last nine years, Minnesota ACT scores have consistently been some of the highest in the nation. The trend continued this year, as the state again outperformed most of the country.

Seventy-six percent of 2014 Minnesota high school graduates took the ACT — or more than 45,000 students.

The new requirement also involves tests at the eighth- and 10th-grade levels to provide students with early performance feedback and prepare them for the ACT, Dahle said.

Requiring all students to take the series of assessments will guide them to their best post-graduation route — whether that be college, technical school or immediately entering the workforce, Dahle said.

“We hope that we can find the right fit for students,” he said. “We don’t think every student is ready for a four-year college.”

Among 2014 graduates, about 40 percent of students statewide met the ACT benchmark scores in English, reading, math and science, while only about one-fourth of students nationwide met these benchmarks.

While Dahle said the new policy will aid students in making better post-graduation decisions, Pogemiller said he hopes it will encourage more students to consider post-secondary education.

“[The testing requirement] sends a signal that there is a general expectation or understanding you should be thinking about post-secondary education,” Pogemiller said. “This is part of a larger effort to focus on college preparedness throughout high school, rather than just focusing on a high school diploma.”