National test replaces MEAP
Add one more test to the alphabet soup that makes up a high school student’s regimen.
Beginning with the class of 2008, all students will take the ACT in the spring of their junior year. This year’s juniors will take the test this coming spring as part of a two-day battery that also includes an ACT Work Keys job skills test, along with a portion of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test for science and social studies.
"The state didn’t think the science portion of the ACT was strong enough," Catherine Meyer, a counselor at Bath High School, told Michigan Education Report. "And the ACT doesn’t cover social studies."
Meyer thinks making the ACT mandatory for juniors has its advantages and disadvantages.
"If it will help encourage some kids to go to college, maybe have a better career step, then it will be a good thing," Meyer said. "But there are other kids, who may be struggling a bit, who might go to community college, who will be disheartened by their score."
• Created in 1959 by two University of Iowa professors
• Formerly called “American College Test,” now just ACT
• Used mainly for college admissions in Midwest and Southeast
• National average is 21
• Perfect score is 36
• No points off for wrong answers
• Also given to all juniors in Colorado and Illinois
Meyer said since community colleges do not require ACT tests for admission, students intending on enrolling in such a school have not been forced to take the ACT in years past.
"I think some of them are really going to struggle with it," Meyer said. "But there’s always some type of test they (the state) will want them to take."
Bath Community Schools, north of Lansing, has fewer than 1,000 students in a town heavily connected to the auto industry. Meyer said the district is made up of many parents who did not go to college and want to make sure their children do go to college.
"It’s easy to keep track of the students who are going to college and which ones aren’t," Meyer said. "About 80 percent of the kids (in the Bath district) go on to some type of higher education."
Meyer added that the math class students take as freshman is often a good indicator of post-high school success.
"That’s usually decided as far back as seventh grade," Meyer said. "Although the new curriculum requirements may change that."
State-mandated graduation requirements, passed into law last spring, require algebra I and II for high school students, beginning with students entering their freshman year this fall.
The Michigan Department of Education made the decision to switch in the fall of 2005, as part of the state’s efforts to increase the number of residents with college degrees. Illinois, which also administers the ACT to all juniors, has seen a 23 percent increase in college attendance after implementing it.
Juniors used to take the MEAP, although it cannot be used as a college entry exam the way the ACT can be. Some students actually opted against taking the MEAP, realizing that it could not help them get into college, but a bad score could hurt them in the eyes of college admissions officials. The ACT also is different because it is a nationally norm-referenced test, meaning the results are comparable across the country against the same content. A 30 on the ACT for a student in Michigan is the same as a 30 on the ACT for a student in Montana. The MEAP, however, is a criterion-referenced test, meaning it is measured against state standards that are drawn up based on content expectations developed by the Michigan Department of Education.
The cost for an individual to take the ACT is about $70, although juniors taking it as part of the state requirement will not pay. Juniors and seniors can still choose to take the test at their own expense at other times of the year when it is offered. This can be an advantage for juniors who think they can improve on their score and then submit the higher score with college applications. The ACT also will be used to award $2,500 merit scholarships that previously have been based on individual MEAP results. The cost to state taxpayers for all juniors to take the ACT will be about $10 million, according to a Detroit News story from September 2005 that announced the change.
Aside from the ACT, Meyer said other students take a variety of tests ranging from the MEAP to the PLAN to PSAT, SAT and AP.
"The PLAN is a practice test for the ACT," Meyer said. "Students can use it to see their strengths and weaknesses, and the districts use the results for NCA accreditation."
Students can take the PSAT in the fall of their junior year, as a primer for the SAT. That test also is the first step toward qualifying for a National Merit scholarship. The ACT and or SAT are then taken in the spring of a student’s junior year or the fall of senior year.
"It still holds true that if you’re planning on going to school in state, you should take the ACT," Meyer said. "If you’re going out of state, especially on either coast, then you should take the SAT."
Finally, Advanced Placement tests are available for students who take AP classes. The cost for applicants is $82, and a high enough score can earn college credits that cost several times more.