Jamestown students dig into testsIn preparation for the ACT exam, Jamestown High School junior Laura Kraft munched on breakfast Wednesday morning.
In preparation for the ACT exam, Jamestown High School junior Laura Kraft munched on breakfast Wednesday morning.
The teen doesn’t usually eat anything before school, but on Wednesday she made an exception.
“I decided to go for it today because I needed my sustenance,” she said.
Kraft was one of more than 160 Jamestown High School juniors who took standardized tests Wednesday as part of a new state regulation requiring all North Dakota juniors to take college- and career-readiness assessments.
Most of the students took the ACT, said Jane Aune, guidance counselor. Two students took the WorkKeys exam and about three opted out. WorkKeys is a career-readiness assessment typically taken by students planning to enter a vocational or technical career.
The North Dakota Legislature required high school juniors take the ACT or WorkKeys tests at the same time on the same day as part of House Bill 1400 in the last legislative session.
In previous years, students took the ACT test on Saturday mornings. They can still do that, but the state won’t pay the $30 or so fee like it did for Wednesday’s exam.
About 7,700 students in the state were expected to take the ACT Wednesday, said Connie Kudrna, state assessment director for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. About 700 of them took the WorkKeys test. About seven other states in the country also require its students to take the ACT or other standardized exam, she said.
The WorkKeys test is new to students this year. Only one school in North Dakota accepts it for admission, but Kudrna said students who do well on the ACT don’t necessarily do well on WorkKeys and vice-versa.
Both exams test career- and college-readiness, but ACT is more academic-based whereas the WorkKeys test is more applied-skills based, she said.
“I can’t say that it’s easier. It’s a different test, but difficult,” said Margaret Doyle, career counselor at the James Valley Career and Technology Center.
Students who receive scores of at least 24 out of 36 on their ACT or at least 5 out of 7 on the three assessments on the WorkKeys exam may qualify for scholarship money from the state.
Other scholarship requirements include a 3.0 or better average and the completion of various high-school level coursework. Those who qualify may receive up to $6,000 in scholarships if they attend one of 21 North Dakota colleges or universities within six years of their graduation. So far, 1,260 students have applied, Kudrna said. She expects up to 2,000 students to qualify by the cut off date on June 7.
About 25 percent of students in North Dakota score 24 or above on the ACT, Aune said. The average score in North Dakota is about a 21.
For juniors like Mikaela Walker, Alec Nelson and Landon Ostlie, that $6,000 may make a difference in choosing where they attend college. Each of them plan to attend four-year schools.
Nelson, for example, narrowed his college choices down to about three schools — North Dakota State University, Fargo, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, and Northern State University, Aberdeen, S.D.
He said he’ll choose a school based on its merit first, but finances are a big issue as well, he said. The cost of education may play a role in his decision-making, so if he qualifies for the $6,000 scholarship, he may choose a North Dakota school because of it.
That’s one of the state’s goals, said Rep. Joe Kroeber, D-Jamestown. Legislators wanted to give students an incentive to stay in North Dakota.
“We’d like to take and keep all the young people we can within the state,” he said.
ACT statistics may change because of this year’s exam — students who wouldn’t likely take the test did this year. Those students may not score as high as the rest of the student population, said Bill Nold, Jamestown High School principal, and bring the average down.
But overall, the opportunity for high school students to take the exam is a benefit, said Bob Toso, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools.
“It’s not a harmful thing for anybody,” he said.
Aune said it may even lead students who hadn’t considered education after high school to obtain some sort of degree.