State plans to require ACT for high school juniors by 2025

The college entrance exam would replace the current Smarter Balanced assessment

By: - January 12, 2024 10:20 am
Rep. Tony Venhuizen, R-Sioux Falls, attends a committee hearing in December 2023 at the Capitol in Pierre. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

Rep. Tony Venhuizen, R-Sioux Falls, attends a committee hearing in December 2023 at the Capitol in Pierre. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

A bill that would require high school juniors to take the ACT college entrance exam instead of a separate state assessment was tabled by the state House Education Committee on Friday at the Capitol in Pierre.

While a majority of testifiers supported the bill, including the Department of Education, the bill’s prime sponsor Rep. Tony Venhuizen, R-Sioux Falls, recommended tabling it. That’s because Secretary of Education Joseph Graves said the department plans to switch to the ACT by the 2025-2026 school year anyway.

“I’m not a person who sees the need to put things into law unnecessarily” Venhuizen said. “… I just want to see this happen, and it sounds like it’s going to.”

One person testified against the bill, saying it would degrade parents’ ability to make educational decisions for their children.

Education officials within state government have talked about making the switch to the ACT from the Smarter Balanced assessment for years, Venhuizen told legislators. That’s because the switch would reduce the number of tests most high school juniors take, would save families money if they want to send their children to college — since the state would be footing the bill — and would put more weight behind the students’ scores.

The ACT would be the best choice for a replacement test, Graves told lawmakers.

“Students don’t find any value in (the Smarter Balanced test),” Graves said. “Because they have no use for it – for the most part – they tend not to take the test seriously. This is a common complaint registered by high school principals and teachers. Because the test results don’t have any other use, then the value is low. We’re taking a test we use for accountability and that’s it.”

About 58% of South Dakota students take the ACT before graduating, since most colleges and universities require scores in the admission process and for scholarship applications. 

South Dakota students’ average ACT score was down for the third consecutive year in 2023, but it remains higher than the national average. Testers earned an average composite score of 21.1 out of 36. Switching to the ACT for all 11th graders will likely lower the state’s score.

Some other states, like Nebraska and Montana, require 11th graders to take the ACT. States where 100% of 2023 high school graduates had taken the test had average scores ranging from 17.2 to 19.

ACT participation rates vary among South Dakota students. During the 2022-2023 school year, 77% of white students took the ACT, 7% of Native American students took it and 5% of Hispanic students took it.

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Makenzie Huber
Makenzie Huber

Makenzie Huber is a lifelong South Dakotan whose work has won national and regional awards. She's spent five years as a journalist with experience reporting on workforce, development and business issues within the state.

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