State to mandate ACT for high school juniors by 2025

The state House Education Committee at the Capitol in Pierre tabled a bill on Friday that would require high school juniors to take the ACT college entrance exam instead of a separate state assessment.

Even though the bill received support from a majority of testifiers, including the Department of Education, its prime sponsor Rep. Tony Venhuizen, R-Sioux Falls, recommended tabling it. This is due to the Department of Education’s plans to switch to the ACT by the 2025-2026 school year.

According to Venhuizen, “I’m not a person who sees the need to put things into law unnecessarily… I just want to see this happen, and it sounds like it’s going to.”

One witness opposed the bill, stating that it would diminish parents’ ability to make educational decisions for their children.

Venhuizen informed lawmakers that education officials within the state government have been discussing the transition from the Smarter Balanced assessment to the ACT for several years. The move would reduce the number of tests administered to most high school juniors, save families money if they plan to send their children to college (as the state would cover the cost), and give more importance to students’ scores.

Lawmakers were told by Secretary of Education Joseph Graves that the ACT would be the ideal replacement test.

Graves stated, “Students don’t find any value in (the Smarter Balanced test). Because they have no use for it – for the most part – they tend not to take the test seriously. This is a common complaint registered by high school principals and teachers. Because the test results don’t have any other use, then the value is low. We’re taking a test we use for accountability and that’s it.”

More than half (58%) of South Dakota students take the ACT before graduating, as most colleges and universities require scores for admission and scholarship applications.

In 2023, South Dakota students’ average ACT score declined for the third consecutive year, but it remains higher than the national average. The average composite score earned by test-takers was 21.1 out of 36. If all 11th graders in the state switch to the ACT, the overall state score is likely to lower.

Some states, such as Nebraska and Montana, already require 11th graders to take the ACT. States with 100% ACT participation among high school graduates in 2023 had average scores ranging from 17.2 to 19.

Participation rates for the ACT differ among South Dakota students. During the 2022-2023 school year, 77% of white students took the ACT, compared to 7% of Native American students and 5% of Hispanic students.

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