ACT should be mandated

By By Joseph Simmons and By Joseph Simmons

By Joseph Simmons

During the past few years, much of the news coming out of Utah hasn’t helped our national reputation. Our little 45th state is a great place, but when we gain recognition on a national level for things such as leading or almost leading the nation in per capita methamphetamine, prescription pain medication, antidepressant and pornography use, it’s hard to swell up with good ol’ Utah pride. So, it was with considerable dismay that I learned that to that list we must add ranking last in the nation in per-student spending in our schools.

According to 2007 U.S. census data released last July, Utah spent $5,683 per student in 20078212;almost $4,000 less than the national average. Although it would probably be worthwhile to study the correlation between our underfunded schools and our skyrocketing statewide drug problem, I think there is an easier way to assess just how ineffective our state’s education spending habits truly are: mandating college entrance exams in all our public schools.

Students at the U made the choice to take the ACT, and since 2004, we’ve averaged a score around a pretty respectable 23.5, several points above the state and national averages. However, despite having a large percentage of resident students, we’re not a good representation of how effective Utah schools are. Students at the U are, for the most part, here because they wanted to pursue higher education and began preparing for it early on.

Higher education isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK, but students deserve the chance to get the best possible education during the time they are in school. Utah lawmakers have fallen back on Utah’s above-average scores on tests such as the ACT and SAT as justification for nickel-and-diming our students, but this is specious reasoning.

Students who want and are able to attend college are more likely to take a more rigorous course load and prepare for the ACT and SAT and thus aren’t an accurate reflection of the state’s education. Additionally, Utah’s minority populations are being significantly underrepresented8212;particularly the Hispanic population.

Although Hispanic students make up nearly 15 percent of Utah’s public school student population, they made up only 6 percent of the students taking the ACT in 2009. These students scored an 18.8 average on the ACT, significantly below the national average.
Although the No Child Left Behind Act has imposed standardized testing, it leaves states the liberty to set their own goals and standards, and the result in many cases has been teachers simply “teaching to the test.” The ACT and SAT are both independent of government interference, and are nationally accepted as reliable indicators of student preparedness and aptitude. If mandated, these tests would quickly give us all a clearer picture of how effective our education spending is. Additionally, by providing these tests to all demographics, we would see diversity and competition increase not just here at the U, but in all Utah schools.

This would not be too difficult an experiment, nor would we be the first to try such a measure. Five other states8212;Colorado, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and Wyoming8212;require all students to take the ACT, and New Mexico and North Dakota are moving to mandatory testing this year.

This is a simple policy implementation that would benefit all students in Utah, from kindergarten to the universities. Class sizes are only going to continue to grow, and keeping our education spending the lowest in the nation is putting large parts of our student population at a disadvantage.

We need an educational litmus test. We need to see how Utah education ranks as a whole and not read into how white, privileged students are testing on the ACT and SAT. Mandating one of these tests will allow lawmakers the benefit of seeing the reality of their decisions to give so little money to our schools, and hopefully they will react in a way that will give us a reason to be proud of our state’s education system.