High school students now required to take ACT test

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - All high school seniors in public school are now required to take the ACT, the high stakes test geared toward college bound students, whether they intend on a higher education or not. Louisiana is the 10th state to use the ACT to measure if students are ready for college or career.

Craig Gehring, owner of ACT Mastery, says there is now an emphasis in schools to get students ACT scores up. His business is an ACT prep course for students who are trying to increase their score above 20. Last year, he helped at University LAB and a school in Donaldsonville. This year he says his program is in 40 schools around the state.

It doesn't hurt that Gehring knows a thing or two about high stakes testing.

"I got a perfect score on the SAT and ACT back in 2003 as a student at Baton Rouge High," Gehring said.

He says the difference between the two tests: ACT is more of an achievement test, SAT is more of a reasoning test. Most students in the south take the ACT.

But Gehring says adding students who don't necessarily care about attending an institution for higher learning could equal a drop in the overall scores. That did happen. Louisiana students previously had an average ACT score of 20.3. This year, testing all eligible seniors, the average score dropped to 19.5. Gehring says that should eventually go back up. Especially once students planning on attending a technical school realize how they benefit from the ACT.

"If a students gets a 17 on the ACT, they can actually have the state pay for them to go to technical school," he said. Gehring says those students could qualify for the TOPS Tech award, which could pay up to $2,000.

A spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Education says the state will pay for each student to take the ACT exam once. Those on free and reduced lunch could have more than one exam paid for. The total yearly cost to the state, we're told, is $2 million. That is funded through existing federal funds.

In addition, a series of assessments will be given beginning with 8th grade students.

The EXPLORE exam will be given to 8th and 9th graders. 10th graders will take a test called PLAN. Both are curriculum-based programs that will measure achievement in English, math, reading and science. They are also designed to prepare students for high school work. Once in 11th grade, students will take the ACT test.

The state says they made these changes to increase participation in the ACT, to improve student outcomes by doing the following:

1. Provide earlier assessment of student progress

2. Improve student readiness for college

3. Increase the number of students who consider college

4. Increase college enrollment and retention

5. Improve workforce planning and career counseling information

State Superintendent John White says students will take the tests in March.  Only students with severe learning disabilities will be exempt from the testing.

Copyright 2013 WAFB. All rights reserved.