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EDITORIAL: Access To ACT Exam Will Benefit Students

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Access To ACT Exam Will Benefit StudentsThe state Department of Education's decision to equip students with testing more capable of guiding them toward skills needed in college and careers is a sound one, assuming that there is follow-through to give them the added practice and attention they need.

Department officials recently announced plans to give all public school juniors the ACT college entrance exam in the coming spring semester as part of a wider program to better prepare students for success after high school graduation.

ACT is a private nonprofit organization (formerly known as American College Testing before it adopted the acronym as its official name) which offers one of the two principal exams used by colleges and universities to gauge students for admission.

However, the ACT is a suite of tests, starting with what's called the ACT PLAN test taken by eighth- and ninth-graders. High school sophomores take the EXPLORE exam, and the next year the students all get to take the college-entrance ACT.

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At a cost of $882,000 for just the first year of testing, DOE and Board of Education officials will need to monitor carefully to be sure public schools have a net gain from this investment. Once the problem areas have been identified, the faculty and staff and other resources need to be in place to oversee their efforts to address those shortcomings.

Those are the implementation challenges ahead. It's harder to argue with the intention of the program.

The idea, said Teri Ushijima, who has been shepherding the ACT initiative, is that students do need guidance to assess their subject-matter mastery (the focus of most of the DOE's academic testing).

But what sets ACT apart, Ushijima said, is that it has a longer record than competing exams in spotlighting areas of greatest student interest and ability, and assessing whether they have the skills and study habits to explore them.

"A benefit of this tool is that it does give you how they're doing academically in those areas," she said. "There's a built-in career-interest tool or inventory. Another critical piece of the report tells us what specific areas to work on to improve their score at the next level."

That seems to be useful information that should better equip schools, students and their families to work cooperatively toward a major DOE goal: boosting the college readiness of high school students.

Ushijima is a complex area superintendent in the Moanalua- Halawa area, and on their own some of her complex schools have begun to underwrite ACT exams for their students. They've seen some success there, she said, and so making testing tools available statewide furthers the public-school mission of fair access to education.

Zeroing out the fee for at least one of the most sought-after college assessments -- the SAT, of course, being the other -- is at least a gesture to help students from lower-income families see college in the realm of possibilities, especially if there's support to move scholarships and financial aid within reach, too.

Boosting academic achievement and giving more Hawaii students the opportunity to seek a college education is undeniably a worthy goal for the DOE. It's also a complex problem, requiring more precise tracking of student needs and performance, and prompt response to those needs.

Viewed within this larger context, the ACT exams certainly are only a small part of Hawaii's educational reform drive, but it also makes sense to add them to the DOE toolkit. ___