OUR OPINION: ACT testing could help with exit exam issues

Gov. Phil Bryant’s proposal to pay for the American College Test on a “piloted basis” for high school seniors as part of their exit exams is a good idea because it could lead to all Mississippi seniors taking the widely used college entrance exam as a measure of what they have learned – and where strengthening is required.

Bryant’s proposal is part of his 2015 executive budget proposal, seeking a $1.5 million appropriation that would allow high schools to pay for and administer the ACT during the school week. Such a change would allow for more control by local school districts of when students take the test and also make it easier for the state to gather the data for use in its accountability model.

The University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, our state’s two largest universities, both use an ACT minimum score of 16 as the test-score base line for admission, combined with a specific minimum grade point average and specific numbers of units in the basic high school disciplines.

Variations on the ACT minimum exist, but a 16 is the standard that’s been in place for several years.

In the larger context, adding the ACT as a component of the exit exam parallels a process under way with the state Board of Education.

The board has approved and posted for comment a “Proposed Mississippi Graduation Assessment Options” graph, including an ACT composite of 16 in math, science, English and social studies, with equivalent minimums for other standards.

On Oct. 18, the state board granted approval to begin the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) process to approve the establishment of the proposed State Board of Education Policy 3804: Additional Assessment Options for Meeting End-of-Course Subject Area Test Graduation Requirements.

Any legislation logically should involve consultation with the state board about the process officially started in October. The comment period on the proposed policy ends at about the same time the 2014 legislative session is set to start.

The time for coordinated action seems right.