There’s an important new study out looking at what happened in states that mandated all high school juniors take a college entrance exam. It measured the impacts for the first two states with mandates in place, Colorado and Illinois, which both created mandates around the year 2000 forcing all students to take the ACT*. It found some promising results.
Obviously test-taking went up, particularly for groups that weren’t previously taking the test, most notably minorities, males, and low-income students. The state average score went down, as many new, low-achieving students were suddenly forced to take the test. But the mandates also unearthed thousands of students who would be eligible for college but would otherwise not have known. For example, the paper estimates that 11,000 students in Colorado and 21,000 students in Illinois would have merely complied with the mandate but scored high enough to be eligible for some postsecondary institution. These are 15-20 percent increases in the number of high school students who become newly eligible to enter college because of the mandate. And, both states had thousands of students “comply” with the mandate only to score high enough to be eligible for selective universities. Again, these students were disproportionately low-income, minority, and male.
The study also found that states with a mandate had slightly higher overall college enrollment and significantly higher enrollment in selective colleges and universities. The study can’t make a direct causal link between these two findings, but it’s a pretty strong early result for the mandates. According to September report from the Center on Education Policy, seven states (Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Wyoming) require all students to take the ACT, Maine requires all high school students to take the SAT prior to graduation, and Idaho requires students to take either the SAT or the ACT. This study suggests more states may want to consider such policies.
*Disclosure: Bellwether works with ACT.
Photo Credit: NYbooks.com