Area educators see the wisdom in students taking a college entrance exam even if they don’t plan on going to a four-year college. But those same local administrators say they can’t fully back a proposal to make the test mandatory.

“I like the ACT as a measure of college readiness, but I’m not sure it’s necessary for every student,” said Superintendent Art Sathoff with the Fairfield school district.

Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass announced Wednesday he wants Iowa to adopt the ACT college entrance exam as a requirement for every student at the high school level.

Currently, families decide whether a college entrance exam is necessary. If Glass has his way, Iowa would join states that have made college entrance testing mandatory.

“The ACT is an important benchmark that helps us look at how well our schools are preparing all students for college and careers,” Glass said.

Educators have reservations

“It’s not something I’m going to go out and lobby for, but I can certainly understand the rationale and the goals behind it,” said Ottumwa Superintendent Davis Eidahl. “Taking the ACT would help us evaluate how we are doing as a district and as a state.”

For Eddyville-Blakesburg Superintendent Dean Cook, cost is a question.

“If they help us pay for the ACTs, I’ve got nothing against it,” he said. “It’d be a good barometer for how we’re doing. But for the kid who is not going to college, is that really the best use [of our] resources?”

Cook and Sathoff agreed testing everyone could give districts an opportunity for self-reflection. If students aren’t doing well in math, something may need to change. But they both said the ACT is just a tool, one possible measure of how schools are doing imparting knowledge to students. There are other assessments that can tell a district how well students are learning, Cook said, and not all of them require more taxpayer money.

As a principal, Mark Hanson works with Ottumwa High School students daily. He tells youngsters taking the test can be helpful.

“We certainly, as a school, would like to see the numbers of students who take the ACT increase. Now, to require it? I have mixed feelings on that,” he said. “I would encourage them to take it.”

Eidahl added that having the test will give seniors more options. Several administrators said a student who hadn’t thought about college might, after seeing a strong ACT score, decide to pursue higher education after all.

Among states that tested more than half of seniors, Iowa scored 22.3, the second-highest average ACT composite score in United States for the Class of 2011. Minnesota was first, with 22.9.

Both Sathoff and Cook said the public should be made aware that if the test is mandatory for students who have no interest in college, the state’s score will likely drop.

The test was taken by 61 percent of Iowa seniors last year.

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