Tony Evers speaking

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers

MICHELLE STOCKER – The Capital Times archives

Wisconsin would pay for all public high school juniors to take the ACT college admissions test starting in two years as part of a $7 million budget initiative State Superintendent Tony Evers announced Wednesday.

The proposal also includes administering three other tests offered by ACT to measure college and career readiness in high school. The tests would replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination, which is currently administered to 10th-graders to comply with federal testing requirements.

"We need to give our students and their families better resources to plan for study and work after high school," Evers said. "It makes sense to use the ACT to fulfill state and federal testing requirements at the high school level with an exam package that provides so much more than the WKCE: college and career readiness assessments and a college admissions test score."

The proposal will be part of DPI's 2013-15 budget request being sent to Gov. Scott Walker. Evers requested $1.2 million to administer three of the ACT tests as part of his last biennial budget request, but the proposal was not included in the governor's budget. That proposal split the $2.4 million cost with districts.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie would not comment specifically on whether the governor supports the proposal, saying agency requests would be considered in the scope of the entire budget. "With that said, transforming education is one of Governor Walker's top budget priorities," Werwie said.

Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, also said it's premature to commit to budgetary matters, but he added Evers "has laid out a pretty good case."

"Most people will agree that our current testing regime is not getting the job done and that we need to do something else," Kestell said.

Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the idea makes sense, but agreed with Kestell that the proposal needs to be considered with other budget items.

"The more guidance you can give (students) the better," Lehman said.

Under the proposal, all public school ninth-graders would take the ACT EXPLORE assessment in spring of the 2014-15 school year. All 10th-graders would take the ACT PLAN test, and all 11th-graders would take the ACT and the WorkKeys tests.

The state would pay for students to take each test once. Those who want to take an ACT a second time to improve their score would have to pay for it themselves.

Also, by training all schools to administer the ACT, the proposal would help students in rural districts who lack access to certified ACT testing sites, Evers said.

The ACT is the most popular college admissions test in Wisconsin with about 61 percent of graduates taking it. Madison plans to administer the test to all juniors for the first time this year.

The EXPLORE and PLAN tests are designed to help students identify their strengths, post-high school options and which classes to take to attain their goals. WorkKeys provides a job skill assessment.

The ACT assessment package will measure student growth and improve career and college readiness measures for Wisconsin's new accountability system, Evers said.

Wisconsin would join at least 12 states that use the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT as part of their state testing program and five states that use WorkKeys in their state testing program. States that require the ACT have found students who had the skills to go to college but were not considering that as an option, Evers said.

"Additionally, administering the ACT suite will help us intervene early," Evers said. "It is too costly for students, their families, and our colleges and universities to provide remedial coursework to high school graduates who are not ready for postsecondary studies."

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Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.