State helps fund ACT

By Andy Kwalwaser

A state agreement with American College Testing, Inc., will provide free academic achievement testing to local high school districts.

As part of the agreement, the Illinois State Board of Education will pay $2.5 million for statewide ninth- and tenth-grade ACT tests and reimburse districts that have already given the tests this school year.

For Urbana School District 116, the free testing will offer an opportunity to gather information on student performance that was not always available before, said Dan Owen, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.

Owen said the district had to choose between managing expenses and administering the tests in the past.

“We stopped giving the (test preparation program) every year just to save some money,” Owen said. “We’re very excited that the state is picking up the tab for it.”

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Between 200 to 350 Urbana students in ninth and tenth grades take ACT achievement tests each year at a cost to the district of about $8 per student. Owen said the regular administration of free tests will give the district a better idea of how to focus academic instruction.

“It lets us know how our students are progressing and if there are any holes in our curriculum we need to be aware of,” he said.

Champaign schools also expect to benefit from the funding. The Champaign Unit 4 school district stands to save between $12,000 to $13,000, said Jim Linnenburger, District Assessment Coordinator. In the past, the district spent $6,000 annually to administer the tenth-grade PLAN test, he said.

“We’ve given the EXPLORE and PLAN (pre-ACT) tests in previous years out of the district’s own money,” Linnenburger said. “A lot can be done with $13,000.”

School districts are not required to administer the tests, said Matt Eanover, spokesperson for Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). However, the state expects most districts will accept the offer.

“We would like to see as many schools as possible take part in this,” he said.

Similar testing agreements have been made in Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan and Wyoming, according to an ACT representative.

The agreement will also offer online practice tests to students in participating districts. ISBE intends these tests to prepare students for college entrance exams. “There was no standard way to assess the performance of students (prior to the agreement),” Eanover said. “Our hope is that by getting this information, it’s another tool students can use in their college preparation.”