Columbia Public Schools to Provide Free ACT Tests For All Juniors

Aug 31, 2017

All high school juniors will be able to take the ACT test for free next spring thanks to funding from Columbia Public Schools, spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.

The state had funded the college-placement test for juniors since 2015. But earlier this year $4 million was cut from the state assessment budget, and the state decided to no longer pay for the exams.

The Columbia School Board will vote on a fiscal 2018 budget amendment to provide $55,000 so that all juniors can take the exam. Baumstark said she thinks about 1,300 juniors will take the ACT next year.

Baumstark said the district typically has a little room within some of its budgetary line items.

“Fifty-five thousand is quite a bit, but not when you look at the grand scheme of how much assessments cost,” she said. “It’s something we believe is an important investment in our students.”

Many colleges and universities use the ACT to determine college readiness and skills levels in applicants, Baumstark said. ACT test scores are often required for college admissions and can help students qualify for scholarships.

The test can cost $42.50 or $58.50 depending on whether the student is tested on writing, according to the ACT’s website.

Although students from low-income households can qualify for a fee waiver if they are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch, Baumstark said there are other advantages to the school paying for every junior to take it on the same day. The students might have not considered themselves eligible or able to apply to college until taking the test and seeing a score that could get them scholarships, she said.

“We want students to explore every possibility for success and advancement in life after high school and this is one avenue to do that,” Baumstark said. “It just opens the door for them to consider lots of possibilities for after graduation.”

Brent Ghan, deputy executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, said he knew of two other public school districts so far among the state’s 520 planning to cover the test fees: Valley Park School District and Rockwood School District in suburban St. Louis. Ghan said other districts are considering it, including Springfield Public Schools.

“It’s really a tremendous decision by some of local school districts in the state who have the ability to provide the ACT to all juniors at no cost,” Ghan said. “It’s extremely beneficial for those students. We only wish that the state had the resources to do that statewide, but obviously that’s not the case right now.”

Missouri began offering the ACT to all 11th-graders because the state is looking for a valid, statewide measure of college and career readiness, according to a statement Wednesday from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“Allocating ACT funds for all 11th-graders (64 percent were already taking the ACT) gave us a more comprehensive view of their preparation for postsecondary education,” the statement read.

The state uses the ACT along with the SAT, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the COMPASS college-placement tests, ACT WorkKeys assessments and industry-recognized credentials as measures of college and career readiness.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixeybrixeye@missouri.edu, 882-2632.