The State of Nebraska is shopping for a company to provide a college entrance exam to replace the battery of state accountability tests taken annually by high school juniors.

By the looks of the request for proposals issued July 11, the ACT or SAT exam would fit the bill.

Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matt Blomstedt said that officials at ACT have already indicated their intent to submit a proposal.

The test would be administered in public schools on a spring weekday next school year.

Students would be able to use the scores on college applications.

Currently, nearly 22,000 11th-graders annually take a series of tests known as the Nebraska State Accountability assessments that measure whether kids are meeting state academic standards.

State lawmakers voted 46-1 last session to replace the 11th-grade NeSA tests with a college admissions test.

Backers said the change could encourage students to take the tests, opening the door for more to attend college. Money now used for state assessment tests would pay for the new exams.

According to the request for proposals, the Nebraska Department of Education is seeking a “widely accepted, standardized, off-the-shelf college entrance exam.” At a minimum, the test must cover reading, math, science and writing. The inclusion of a writing component should help ease concerns that the state was backing away from writing tests after suspending the state’s writing tests for the next school year over computer problems.

The request hints that the state may eventually implement two separate 11th-grade tests, one for students bound for four-year colleges and another for those headed to community colleges.

Blomstedt said there’s a perception among some school administrators that some students wouldn’t be motivated to take the ACT because they’re not on a four-year college track.

“There’s kind of this notion that if a kid is motivated to at least take a different assessment because of their goals that might be a better approach,” Blomstedt said.

He emphasized, however, that the state may adopt a single test.

Some local school officials favor a single test, while others like having two, he said.

On the one hand, having everyone take the ACT or SAT could identify students with college potential who might otherwise have slipped through the cracks.

But critics would say it’s not productive to administer the ACT or SAT to students who are not interested in or on track for college.

District officials who prefer having two tests tend to come from districts where a large share of students would consider community colleges over four-year colleges, Blomstedt said.

Replacing the 11th-grade NeSA tests with a single exam would allow for comparing how well districts are preparing all students for college. It would also allow comparing Nebraska students’ scores to those in other states that test all their kids. With separate tests, those comparisons would not be so easy.

In addition, while the NeSA tests are aligned to state standards, the ACT, SAT and other off-the-shelf tests would not be. So, when it comes to accountability, they wouldn’t be the best gauge of how well students are learning the standards.

The request for proposals indicates that bidders must participate in an alignment process with Nebraska educators to determine how well the test questions line up with the state’s standards.

Blomstedt said that the College Board could respond to the state’s request with a proposal to provide the Accuplacer, SAT or both.

Gretna Superintendent Kevin Riley said that there are advantages to using two college admissions tests.

A test such as Accuplacer, a product of the College Board, can identify strengths and weaknesses in a student bound for community college, he said.

Accuplacer is among the tests used to place students at Metropolitan Community College.

“I’m encouraged if we’re looking at options that benefit all kids, whether they’re four-year college-bound or not,” he said.

In several Nebraska districts, the state has been piloting having all juniors take the ACT exam.

Some districts, including the Millard Public Schools, already give the test to all juniors.

Proposals are slated to be opened Aug. 9, with the contract awarded Sept. 6.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1077, joe.dejka@owh.com

Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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