Beginning next year, all high school juniors in Louisiana will be required to take the ACT -- for free.
A new effort by the Louisiana Department of Education will include administering a series of standardized pre-tests that prepare students for the ACT beginning in the eighth grade. The pre-exams, called EXPLORE and PLAN, will be administered once a year leading up to the junior-year ACt, and are designed to measure student progress in math, English, reading and science in preparation for the college entrance exam.
The first administration of the ACT for all juniors across the state will be subsidized by the state and will take place during school hours. Lower income students could later be eligible to take the exam a second time for free, according to the Daily Comet.
Roughly 75 percent of high school graduates in Louisiana currently take the ACT, and the state still has the smallest percentage of households in the country where at least one adult has an associate or bachelor's degree, according to The Advocate.
The new testing requirements are targeted at "changing that cycle," state Superintendent of Education John White told The Advocate.
"Kids want to be challenged, kids want to achieve," White said. "It is our obligation to raise the bar."
Requiring all students to take the ACT could force the average state score lower, but Terrebonne school Superintendent Philip Martin told the Daily Comet that many students could benefit from a required shot at the college entrance exam.
"I think you're going to see kids who say, 'Well, I didn't think of myself as college material, but this score is better than I thought it would be,'" Martin said. "And that could easily make them go in a direction they wouldn't have before."
The average ACT score among Louisiana test-takers rose marginally last year to 20.2 from 20.1 the previous year. The highest score is 36. State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell told The Times-Picayune last August that the rise can be attributed to the increased number of students taking more challenging courses that are designed to prepare them for college.
While the national average on the ACT rose slightly for the high school class of 2011, 28 percent failed to meet any benchmark that indicates they are ready for college, and likely needed remedial college work to catch up.