Raising The Bar – Statewide Adoptions of The ACT, with John Carroll of ACT

johncarrollIn 2000, Colorado and Illinois were the first states to require their juniors take the ACT as part of their state assessment program … there were lots of unknowns then.   Up to that point, The ACT had only been given on national test dates and primarily college-bound students paid for the privilege.  There were lots of unknowns, mainly centering around whether every high school in a state could successfully (and with integrity and fidelity) administer a high stakes standardized exam. Also, would colleges view these ACT scores the same way as a national administration? Would the NCAA or Military Academies accept these scores?  Many asked, “why would we give The ACT to everyone, including those not going to college and special education students?”

At the time it was revolutionary and the questions above received positive answers … then state adoptions became evolutionary.  Michigan adopted in 2007, then Kentucky and now 13 states offer and pay for The ACT, though not all require it.  Essentially, 9 states test 100% of their juniors with The ACT. Even North Carolina, traditionally an SAT-dominant state now requires all juniors to take the ACT, and for good measure, their 8th graders and sophomores must take ACT EXPLORE and ACT PLAN, respectively.  All of these states had the same goal in mind: raising the bar for all students in hopes of raising levels of lagging student achievement.  Education officials realized that to be competitive in our new global economy, a well-respected national assessment would force them to re-evaluate how competitive all of their students actually were, rather than depending on state-designed assessments with low proficiency cutscores.

Let’s take a look at Illinois as they were the first to adopt The ACT statewide:


While there’s a lot of data, let’s break it down to its simplest elements.  In 2000, the Illinois graduating class was well above the national group in every category.  In 2001, when all juniors took the ACT, Illinois numbers dipped to well below the national group and this was expected because the national group, for the most part, tested only college-bound students (with the exception of Colorado and Illinois).  This helped the state of Illinois realize that when they accounted for all students, they had some work to do to build a stronger workforce.  Let’s look at the Class of 2012 … we can see that Illinois has made tremendous gains over the intervening years, not recovering to the pre-statewide testing levels, but closing the gap on the national ACT test taking population.  One hidden takeaway not shown in this data is that many of these students now “required” to take the ACT actually had very good scores; in some ways, they were presumed to be unprepared … many had game.

How did this happen?  Well, in short, we have always made assumptions about who is destined for college and lots of our behaviors are made in that context.  When armed with college readiness data for all their students, Illinois implemented a number of measures to strengthen their academic, counseling, and assessment programs.  One of the more important initiates was to pay for ACT EXPLORE (8th and 9th grades) and ACT PLAN (10th grade) testing in an effort to identify earlier what students were not on track to be college ready.  Following that initiative, interventions were developed to address the gaps identified in this testing to better arm students with the skills they would need to be successful in college; as identified on The ACT.

Statewide testing also benefits the economic pipeline in a state. Community Colleges and four-year colleges and universities benefit greatly when all students have the opportunity to take The ACT. Let’s briefly look at another advantage … ACT score submissions to in-state institutions … anyone who has ever worked college admissions knows that this is the highest yielding enrollment source:

raising-the-bar-2Illinois and Michigan are two examples, but there are several others.  In Michigan, the state in which I work and serve, We have also made great gains after adopting The ACT statewide by employing EXPLORE/PLAN, beefing up our minimal course requirements to make them among the most rigorous in the nation, and deploying EXPLORE/PLAN/ACT data workshops and “camps” to assist schools in using their data to identify gaps and attack them.  As I like to say, if folks in my state think that giving The ACT to everyone is foolhardy, so do 12 other states!

From 2000 to 2007, only three states employed statewide ACT testing.  From 2007-2013, ten states were added indicating an acceleration of the acceptance of this tool to raise the educational bar for all.  Colleges and universities across the nation should recognize what’s happening in these thirteen states and plan their student search and recruitment strategies accordingly!

John M. Carroll

Senior Account Manager

ACT – Michigan

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