Fewer juniors taking ACT test


Fewer high school juniors in Chicago could be taking the ACT college entrance exam next spring, as the Chicago Public Schools is undecided on whether to require the ACT or another test.

The ACT had been administered as part of the Illinois Prairie State Achievement Examination, which until 2015 was the standardized testi used in 11th grade for all schools in the state, for about 15 years.

Last spring the Chicago Public Schools and many suburban districts required juniors to take the ACT even though it is not part of the Illinois State Board of Education’s new process, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The state board set aside funds to help school districts that decided to require the ACT last spring, but those funds may not be available in 2016 due to the state budget crisis.

If the Chicago school system stops requiring the exam, some students are expected to skip it in part because of the testing fee of $39.50, with an additional charge for those who take the optional writing portion of the test. Students did not have to pay the ACT fee when it was taken as part of the Prairie State exam.

"That’s our concern," Taft assistant principal Brian Tennison said. "That discourages, opposed to encourages, what we’re supposed to do because it’s one more barrier or extra step that students would have to take."

Not all colleges require applicants to take the ACT or its counterpart, the College Board’s SAT exam, and some studies indicate that high school grades serve as a better predictor of a student’s academic performance in college, Tennison said.

However, the importance of taking the ACT cannot be overstated for those applying to a state university or seeking a scholarship, Tennison said. "A high score on the ACT opens you up to universities offering money," he said.

Traditionally universities in the Midwest preferred the ACT, while East Coast and West Coast schools accepted the SAT. However, many schools now accept either exam.

The school system states on its Web site that a decision on whether a college entrance exam will be required for students or if results from the exams will be used in any accountability metrics for high schools has not been decided. The state board’s contract with the organization which administers the ACT expired earlier this year, and the board reportedly has considered entering a contract with the College Board for its SAT exam.

"ISBE has indicated that there will be a college entrance exam available for students in grade 11. The specific test and the logistics are still undermined," the Chicago Public Schools Web site states.

A school district spokeswoman said that there is no update on the issue and that the school system is reviewing its options.

Taft plans to offer ACT preparation workshops next semester.

Studies show that students benefit from taking one practice ACT exam so that they can become familiar with the style of the test but that taking too many practice exams can have a negative effect on a student’s score, Tennison said. He said that offering a rigorous curriculum that challenges students in every class may be the best preparation for the exam.