Do-over entrance exam project sends more students to college

Do-over entrance exam project sends more students to college

(Tenn.) A surge of students scored higher on college admission tests and became eligible for in-state scholarships following Tennessee’s first state-funded program giving high schoolers to retake the ACT exam.

Nearly 26,000 students in the Class of 2017 participated in the state’s first retake day, and almost 40 percent received higher scores. Additionally, about 5 percent raised their composite score above 21, making them eligible to receive the state’s HOPE Scholarship.

“Our goal is to open more doors for students after high school, and these results are one more step toward that vision,” Candice McQueen, Tennessee education commissioner, said in a statement. “We want students to graduate from high school with the ability to access whatever path they want to explore, and we know too often low ACT scores create a barrier. This retake option is not just strengthening our students’ future opportunities, but it is strengthening our state’s future, as well.”

A growing number of states are opting to cover the cost of college-prep entrance exams rather than issue standardized tests to assess high school juniors’ academic progress to meet federal accountability requirements, including Delaware, Maine, Wisconsin and Kentucky.

Education officials across the country have said that use of SAT or ACT scores could motivate some kids to more seriously consider higher education as a viable option.

Nearly half of states currently cover the fee of $50 or more for all students to take standardized college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT–and Arizona lawmakers introduced a bill this month seeking to do the same.

In Tennessee, the decision to cover the costs of retaking the ACT is part of an overall initiative to at least ensure 55 percent of Tennesseans in the state have earned a college degree or certificate by the year 2025. The “Drive to 55,” announced in 2013, aims to ease high school students' transition from graduation to postsecondary, provide more guidance, financial support and mentorship, offer more early postsecondary opportunities, and host focus groups with students to help improve these efforts.

Education officials announced last week that–after students were able to retake the ACT free of charge last fall–the percentage of high school seniors who met the ACT college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects increased from nearly 22 percent to almost 27 percent.

In Knox County Schools, 25 percent of students who retook the ACT hit all four benchmarks during their junior year, but more than 32 percent met all four benchmarks after retaking the exam.

Additionally, more than one third of school districts increased their district-wide composite average, which can lead to additional to state support while also improving a student’s chances for entry into higher education institutions and for institutional and private scholarships. Higher composite scores also allow students to enroll directly into college-level coursework instead of remedial classes.

Those whose composite score increased to above 21 became eligible for HOPE Scholarship funds that provide up to $16,000 to help students pay for in-state colleges.

Shouldering the fees to retake the ACT–which normally costs $56 in Tennessee–cost the state $760,000. Gov. Bill Haslam has included money to continue the program in his budget proposal for 2017-18.