Missouri to pay for ACT, reduce some testing times

Saturday, January 25, 2014 | 5:40 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — Missouri will begin picking up the tab for students to take the ACT college entrance exam and dramatically reduce the amount of time some elementary and middle school students spend taking state assessments.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced this week that the testing revisions will take effect next school year and will shave $3.5 million from the testing budget.

With the changes, Missouri will join more than a dozen states that already offer the ACT test to all their students. Missouri plans to offer the test one time, free of charge, to high school juniors and use the results to evaluate their readiness for college and careers. Students will be on their own if they want to retake the exam and try for a higher score.

"A lot of parents will pay for it several times," said Sarah Potter, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman said. "At least we are getting one of those off their plate."

Elementary and middle school students also will see big changes as the state switches to new assessments that are tied to uniform benchmarks for reading, writing and math called Common Core standards. The new benchmarks replace a hodgepodge of educational goals that had varied greatly from state to state.

The state initially planned to require students in grades three, four, six and seven to participate in a full seven hours of math and language arts testing when it begins offering the new Common Core-aligned tests — much more time than the three to four hours students spend on the current MAP exams. But with the newly announced changes, students in those grades will take shorter versions of the Common Core-aligned tests called survey assessments that will take about an hour to complete.

The longer tests, which will take seven hours to complete, will be reserved for grades five and eight.

Potter said the main concern the state heard from educators about the new exam was the need for a shorter version. The changes also will help as districts make the transition from the current pencil-and-paper tests to the new Common Core-aligned tests, which are offered electronically. Most districts have sufficient resources to offer the electronic exams, but Potter said the state is trying to identify those that might need help.

Potter said the new exams provide several advantages. Among them, teachers will learn how their students fared on the grade-level state assessments in 10 business days. Now, they have to wait until August.

"That isn't a big help when you are trying to plan your programs for the next school year," Potter said.

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