An investment in college readiness tests is yielding positive results for county students.
Last school year, the Montgomery County school system for the first time allocated $450,000 in its operating budget to pay for all 11,000 high school seniors to take the ACT, SAT or a career certification assessment before graduating.
New data shows the graduating class of 2018 had a 41-point increase — 101 points higher than the state average — from the previous graduating class on the SAT.
The number of students who participated grew from 5,600 to 7,100, and the numbers of students proficient in English and math categories increased by more than 1,000 in each category.
The goal of providing free tests for county students, an idea proposed by Superintendent Jack Smith, was to increase accessibility to higher education and career opportunities, school spokesperson Derek Turner said.
The county school board is expected to adopt its fiscal 2020 budget this week with $350,000 allocated for students to take college readiness tests.
“These tests are a tool required by many institutions to get to higher education, and for some students, the cost was a barrier,” Turner said. “If you can’t pay for the test, how are you going to get access to college? It’s irresponsible to say certain students can succeed, but only because they have the resources and others don’t.”
The ACT costs $46 without the optional writing test and $62.50 with the writing component, according to its website, while the SAT costs $47.50 without the essay component and $64.50 with. Both tests are given seven times per year on dates determined by the organizations. Career certification assessments vary by focus area.
Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics show colleges do not prefer one test over the other, and the SAT is more popular among students on the east coast.
Turner said school officials hope every student will take either the ACT, SAT or a career licensing test before graduation. The “unintended consequence” is the school system’s ability to compare local students’ achievement to those across the state and country, which could help shape future policies and teaching methods.
Other area school districts, like Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Frederick counties also pay for students to take the college readiness measurement tests.
Participation on the ACT decreased 5.3 percent in 2018 to 34.3 percent, which Turner attributed to students’ ability to choose between college readiness tests or career certification tests. Since 2014, ACT participation among graduating seniors has increased nearly 5 percent, according to data from the testing company.
ACT reports that 54 percent of 2018 graduates met all four college readiness benchmark scores in English, math, reading and science. The benchmark scores established by ACT indicate a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college course.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org