Mo. governor candidate Steelman backs ACT testing

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman wants to do away with Missouri's standardized achievement tests for high school students and instead require them to take the ACT college entrance exam.

Steelman said Monday that the Missouri Assessment Program tests have done a poor job of ensuring high school students learn what they need to know to get ahead in life.

"The MAP test at the high school level is pretty meaningless for kids and teachers and parents," Steelman said in an interview.

"The ACT is a test that matters to students and to parents -- it's a test that helps kids get into college. The better you do on the ACT, the more financial aid you're going to receive," she said.

Steelman's proposal comes as Missouri already is making changes in its standardized tests, which play a role in determining whether public schools receive state accreditation.

This past school year, Missouri administered standardized tests on mathematics to high school sophomores and on science and communications arts to juniors.

But beginning in the 2008-2009 school year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is scrapping the grade-level achievement exams for high school students in favor of end-of-course exams in particular subjects, said Stan Johnson, commissioner for the Division for School Improvement. Grade-specific tests still will be given for elementary, middle and junior high school students.

High school students will be tested on Algebra I, Communication Arts 2 and biology whenever they complete those courses -- regardless of their grade level, Johnson said. The algebra and biology tests will be more narrowly focused than the previous math and science exams.

Although not required, school districts also will have the option of counting the required exams in their students' grades for the course, Johnson said. The change to end-of-course exams is being made partly so that students will have a greater incentive to perform their best on the tests.

Steelman, the state treasurer, is running in the Aug. 5 Republican gubernatorial primary against U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof. The winner is expected to face Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon in the general election.

Though Missouri already is changing its standardized tests, Steelman's campaign said the state would be better off tailoring its testing and teaching to prepare students for taking the ACT. That test is among the most commonly used college entrance exams, along with the SAT.

The ACT consists of four sections -- English, math, reading and science.

Steelman said she would have to study how the ACT could be used as part of the state's accreditation process, if it were to replace the current standardized tests.

Five states -- Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Wyoming -- already pay for the ACT to be administered to high school juniors as part of their academic achievement measurements, said Ed Kolby, a spokesman for the Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT.

Hulshof has not outlined a specific proposal for Missouri's standardized testing. Nor did Hulshof spokesman Scott Baker offer a specific critique of Steelman's plan, quipping: "Probably the most important news of the day is Sarah Steelman finally put forth some ideas."

"Kenny believes that assessments are one of the primary ways to determine the quality of education students receive" and to hold educators accountable, Baker said.

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