Plan floated to replace 10th grade state test with ACT in 11th grade

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson is floating the idea of having all Kansas students take the ACT in 11th grade instead of the state assessments in math and English in 10th grade. 

Watson briefed the State Board of Education about the proposal on Tuesday. Several board members had questions about the idea, which has been explored in a number of other states.  

Board Chair Kathy Busch asked Watson to provide an update on the issue next month and then possibly bring it to the board in October for some kind of action. 

Watson said he would reach out to school superintendents at a meeting next month with the Council of Superintendents and seek input from curriculum directors. He said he would provide State Board members all the comments on the proposal.  

Watson said such a change would also require the Kansas Legislature, which starts its 2020 session in January, to amend state law. Under his proposal, the ACT would replace 10th grade tests in math and English and the 11th grade state test in science. The writing portion of the ACT would not be required and the test would be administered free of charge to students, he said.  

Currently in Kansas, the ACT test is optional but last year the state provided funding to allow every Kansas high school junior to take the ACT and ACT Workkeys tests free of charge. Most college-bound students in Kansas take the ACT. 

In the school finance bill passed by the 2019 Legislature, a commitment to fund free ACT testing for all students was written into state law. 

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) tied federal school funding to math and reading standards reflected on statewide standardized tests. But the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced NCLB, allows states more flexibility regarding testing options, Watson said. 

Several states have considered the option of using a nationally recognized test — the ACT or SAT — instead of a state required test. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education granted North Dakota permission to administer the ACT and use it to report achievement for accountability under ESSA. But also last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have given school districts the option of replacing the state test with the ACT or SAT.  

Watson argued that many 10th graders don’t take the state test seriously. Students, especially those wanting or thinking of going to college, would take the ACT more seriously, he said.  

One issue brought up as a possible negative to the proposal is that the ACT doesn’t make as many accommodations for special education students as the state assessment.  

In Kansas, students take math and English state assessments in grades three through eight and 10. Science tests are administered in grades 5, 8 and 11.  

School leaders are encouraged to discuss the implications of this change with local board members, educators, students, parents and other interested parties. Comments can be shared with the State Board through the superintendent, or directly contacting State Board members. 

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