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October 22, 2014

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State settles on ACT test for all high school juniors

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High school juniors will have a new required exam waiting for them in April that could help them prepare for college.

The Nevada State Board of Education unanimously approved a plan today to administer the ACT exam to all high school juniors. The decision will allow the Department of Education to begin negotiating a contract with ACT to distribute its test.

While the exam is mandatory for all students, it will not affect whether a student will graduate. Instead, it gives high school juniors a free exam that is required to apply to many colleges.

It’s that focus on the future that made the exam most appealing to Allison Serafin, Board of Education vice president. Not only that, but it can also show students what they need to work on if they want to attend college or enter the workforce, she said.

“It’s not as much about placement than what’s next,” Serafin said. “It enables them to know that, ‘Gosh, I need to brush up on my algebra because I didn’t do so well on it.’”

The decision to adopt the ACT with writing comes after a new law was passed during the 2013 Legislature that mandated all Nevada high schools to administer a “college and readiness” exam to juniors. An Education Department committee had ranked the ACT above both the SAT and the McGraw Hill exam.

The Education Department has a budget of about $2 million to spend on the test, which will be administered to more than 35,000 high school juniors. Half the cost will be paid by the Education Department, while the rest will be split among the state's 17 school districts.

State Superintendent Dale Erquiaga said the board’s decision was a major step forward for Nevada education as it prepares students for life beyond high school.

“This is a really big step for Nevada to provide a statewide test or 35,000 students,” Erquiaga said. “This is really great for Nevada families.”

Erquiaga expects negotiations with ACT officials to be completed in time to have the exam ready to be administered in April. The state will also explore a pilot program for the ACT’s WorkKeys test, which measures a student’s readiness for high school.

In addition to the ACT, the Education Department will also be introducing several other tests this year. There will be four end-of-course exams for high school students and a computer-based exam for elementary and middle schoolers.

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