Utah bill to require college readiness testing

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<strong>SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -</strong> Sleeping in on Saturdays. Saving some cash. And hopefully, scoring higher on college admissions tests.

Those are among the perks for some Utah students who take exams like the ACT as part of their high school graduation requirements. For the second year, Utah lawmakers are considering a bill that would require all juniors at Utah high schools to take similar tests.

Last year, the measure died in the session’s final moments when lawmakers ran out of time, said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

“Hopefully we’ve learned our lesson and this will get high priority” this year, Stephenson said.

The ACT or a similar exam, lawmakers say, would replace the state’s outdated standardized tests and better prepare students for college and working. The bill would also require schools to pay for online preparatory courses. But some worry that the measure does not set aside enough cash to pay for those online courses.

Depending on the company, prep materials and courses can cost anywhere from about $30 to upward of a few hundred dollars. The state has not pinpointed any test prep program in particular. The bill would set aside $700,000 to give the tests, and another $150,000 for test prep.

Utah schools Superintendent Martell Menlove said in a hearing earlier this month that he worried the test prep fund would fall drastically short. “The concern I have here,” Menlove said, is that less than 10 percent of students set to take the test would receive the online preparation. If the state decided on prep courses that cost about $50 per student, Menlove estimated, only about 3,000 of the state’s more than 40,000 high school juniors could take the online prep classes.

In years past, sophomores took the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test to graduate. But that exam does not challenge students enough, said Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, adding that it asks students to prove basic skills when it should ask them to showcase their strengths.

Students who find classes boring and unchallenging often score better on the ACT exam than they do in classes, said Stephenson, the 2013 bill’s sponsor.

“Some amazing things happen with young people who never thought they were college material” take the ACT, he said, adding that when they do better than they expected to, “the students realize they do have what it takes.”

But taking those tests could be tricky for Utah charter students enrolled in online programs. In a hearing earlier this month, Chris Bleak of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools urged lawmakers to set a plan for online charter students across the state who want to take the exam.

Brittany Smart, a senior at Alta High School in Sandy, first took the ACT last year when the school required juniors to take the test.

The school picked up the tab for the test, Smart said. That free test provided another chance at higher scores for students who could afford to take test only once, Smart said. The ACT exam usually costs $35, or about $50 if students opt to take the writing portion.

“And it’s a weekday, rather than a Saturday,” she said of the testing period, “so that’s kind of cool.” Smart prefers the ACT over the SAT, she said.

“I just like the organization of the ACT,” she said, adding “whereas with the SAT you’re not on the same section as anyone else in the room.” Of the SAT format, she said, “It’s just random. It’s just odd.”

The bill goes to the House for consideration.

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Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.

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