February 21, 2014 11:25:07 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi high school students could soon be using the same test to get out of high school and get into college.
Gov. Phil Bryant, House members and superintendents are pushing a proposal to use the ACT college test as the high school exit exam for public school students.
Mississippi would become the first state to set a minimum composite score on the test for students to graduate from high school.
Bryant announced support for the plan last year, and House Bill 767 would set up a pilot program giving the tests to high school juniors in 10 school districts chosen by a University of Mississippi research center. The bill sailed through the House, passing 118-1 on Feb. 11, and awaits Senate consideration.
Mississippi is already moving toward joining at least 14 other states in administering the test to all high school juniors as part of a new statewide school rating system. But the test would only be used to measure schools.
Since 2003, the state has used four exit exams -- in algebra I, English II, biology and U.S. history -- that students must pass to graduate. The bill sets up a pilot program and then mandates use of the ACT as the state's primary exit exam. The state Board of Education is mandated to propose a bill in late 2015 for the 2016 Legislature to make the ACT statewide based on the pilot.
"Hopefully, after a year, we'll make it statewide," said House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, the bill's sponsor.
The bill also says the Legislature will set passing scores. Now, the Board of Education sets passing scores on the subject area tests.
Madison County Superintendent Ronnie McGehee is one the foremost proponents of the plan. He said students care much more about the ACT than the current subject area tests.
"It means something to our children," the elected superintendent said. "The ACT is the gatekeeper of where you can go after the secondary experience."
In 2013, the 28,000 Mississippi students who took the ACT scored 18.9. That was the second-lowest average among the states, compared to a national average of 20.9. Mississippi scored above the college-ready level in English but below in math, reading and science. Even a composite score of 15 would mean that more than a quarter of students would fail. The bill calls for alternate graduation routes including the existing subject tests.
Some are critical of the plan. The ACT doesn't measure U.S. history knowledge and measures science reasoning instead of biology knowledge. Opponents say they don't want to give up the Common Core-aligned tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a multistate group that includes Mississippi.
"An exit exam for high school is supposed to measure how much you learn in high school. The ACT is not a test that's geared to do that," said Rachel Canter, executive director of Mississippi First, an education reform group. "It's geared to assess how well you will do in college."
Ed Colby, spokesman for ACT Inc. of Iowa City, Iowa said the test is a fair assessment of what students need to know. He said that in science, for example, ability to think scientifically is more important that specific knowledge.
"They can teach the parts of a cell if a student hasn't learned that," Colby said.
Online: House Bill 769: http://bit.ly/1jh293s
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