Missouri to Fund ACT Testing for High School Juniors

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COLUMBIA - Parents of future high school juniors now have one less thing to budget for. Starting with the graduating class of 2016, high school juniors will be able to take the ACT exam one time free of charge.

The announcement came earlier this week following revisions made by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The state also made the exam mandatory and will likely start the free tests during the spring semester of their junior year.

"We sat down with our education partners and tried to come up with a revised assessment plan," DESE Communications Coordinator Sarah Potter said. "At that time we agreed that ACT should be offered for the entire state, for all eleventh graders."

The cost to take the ACT is $36.50 without the writing portion, and $52.50 with the writing portion.

Potter said the bill for roughly 900,000 students to take the exam is $4.2 million.

"We definitely think it's worth it because it gives them that score, that they can go on to use whenever they need it once they graduate high school," Potter said.

Potter said this is a new budget item and is dependent on funding from the state.

For Columbia Public Schools it means more students will have access to take the exam. For students who miss the first scheduled exam there are plans to hold a make-up exam.

"I think it will increase the opportunity for students to take the test," said Betsy Jones, who serves as both director of guidance at Rock Bridge High School and district coordinator for guidance and counseling for grades 6-12.

The ACT national test is administered on the weekend, high schools will hold the free exam on a school day. Jones said barriers like transportation or students who work weekends will be eliminated by the weekday test. Jones said the goal is to make the exam accessible to as a many students as possible.

For students who are not yet eligible to take the ACT for free, Columbia Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Sally Beth Lyon said the district gives every eleventh grade student the opportunity to take COMPASS. It's an alternative college preparatory assessment.

Both Potter and Jones said in some cases, funding may be made available for students who cannot afford to take the ACT. 

"I do think there is a gap there where some kids need funding to be able to take it," Potter said.

Jones said she thinks the test will give students who may not have considered higher education, a different perspective.

"I think it will increase the number of students who will realize that college is in their realm, in their grasp," Jones said. "I also think as guidance counselors we have thought all along that this is the test we should be giving students so that they can see their potential."