Publicly and privately funded programs to get more Arizona high school students to take the ACT exam are showing more students that a college education can be a reality and districts how their students compare with others statewide and nationally.
Between 2009 and 2010, 86 percent more Arizona students took the ACT, and large federally funded programs likely contributed to those numbers, according to the Arizona Minority Student Progress Report: 2013 Arizona in Transformation prepared by the Arizona Minority Education Policy Analysis Center released in November.
“In 2008, at least in our system, we only had 340 students who self-selected to take the test,” said Kent Scribner, superintendent of Phoenix Union High School District. “Now, everyone is taking the test, even students who before were not considering post-secondary education. It’s a much more expanded pool.”
In Arizona, 14 districts participate in the ACT Initiative, and over the past six years more than 82,000 students have taken the ACT as part of this program, said Rebecca Lindgren, marketing communications director for Helios Education Foundation.
“Creating opportunities for thousands of Arizona students to take the ACT exam and helping them realize that college may in fact be an option for them is part of Helios’ effort to get Arizona’s students college and career ready,” said Paul Luna, Helios Education Foundation’s president and CEO
All Phoenix Union High School District ninth- through eleventh-graders have taken one of the ACT’s battery of tests during the school day each year since 2009 at no cost to students’ families, thanks to the Helios Education Foundation funding the “lion’s share of the ACT initiative,” Scribner said.
“We have nationally benchmarked college-going data on how students are progressing,” Scribner said. “By talking about college and career readiness in ninth grade, you set yourself on a positive trajectory toward eleventh grade and beyond.”
For many students and their families, taking the test is an issue of access, Maricopa Community Colleges Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Maria Harper-Marinick said.
“Do they know that those assessments have some value? Can they afford it?” Harper-Marinick said. “I applaud Superintendent Scribner for saying everyone’s going to take it, and we found a way to fund this. Immediately, you provide students with opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Helios Education Foundation has invested $2.3 million in the cost-share model since the program started with Helios paying 70 percent of the exams’ cost and districts investing 30 percent, Lindgren said. In previous years, the Governor’s Office also made a financial investment.
The program also gives districts data they can use to make changes in curriculum and instruction to ensure more students are college and career ready.
“The ACT Initiative not only gets students excited about their academic future, but it also provides school districts with meaningful baseline data about how their students are performing,” Luna said.