Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Intention into Practice: Kids should take the Compass, not the ACT

Iowa has never lacked for good ideas.   And when Jason Glass floated the idea of everyone taking the ACT so we had a consistent measure that looked at content across the state in addition to the Iowa Test, I was intrigued.  But as I looked, and talked with colleagues, I was a bit stymied, because the ACT is designed to be a top-end measuring device.  And frankly, I just think a test without a value to the kids is a recipe for apathy.  I'm not a fan of exit exams, but I am a supporter of tests that can provide a stepping stone to preparation for the next step in kids' lives.

Here are the basics of the ACT:
  • Cost:   the ACT costs $34/kid for the basic, and $49.50 for the segment that includes writing. 
  • Time frame:   We'll need to offer this one day a year for kids in IA.   Can't be on a Saturday, because of religious reasons.  ACT is not kind on the idea of makeups.
  • High-stakes:   This is a buy-in issue.    Kids headed to college are perhaps willing to try on the ACT , but unless we make this a graduation exit requirement (which I don't support), kids headed to community college, the workforce, or the military may just blow things off.

The alternative:

I think that the best alternative is the ACT Compass test, which is slightly less expensive ($25/kid), but still tests readiness.  The time frame is flexible, because it is an online test, and could be offered over a several day band to account for absences.   Many kids are required to take this test already to take Senior Year Plus or Concurrent Classes for Iowa Community Colleges.  This means that they naturally care about their performance.  We could require the test in the fall of the Junior year.   Then, kids who want to take the ACT have a natural practice test, and there is a natural comparison of success (similar to the PLAN test required of many sophomores across the state). Even better, if kids are struggling, they can take the Compass twice in one year.   For college bound kids, we could correlate PLAN to COMPASS to ACT and see a growth matrix.

Just thinking aloud here.    Am I missing something?

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