Today the Nebraska Legislature will debate LB 930, a bill to make the ACT exam the standard 11th grade assessment for Nebraska students. This is a wise move that will benefit Nebraskans for the following reasons:
- Standards vary from state to state. According to Education Next, since 2011, Nebraska is only one of two states in the country to lower standards (and the standards were already low). The current Nebraska state assessments (NeSA) started during the 2010-11 school year. If standards decreased since then, any change in outcomes must be weighed with that in mind.
- The ACT exam will create consistent, high standards for all students in Nebraska. Because students across the country take the exam, and in many states all students participate, we can compare performance across state lines, as well as across school and district lines in the state. We will know how well prepared students in Nebraska are compared to students in Michigan, for example, and if students in Millard are as prepared as students in Kearney. Until we have 100% participation, any comparison based on ACT scores is unreliable.
- High standards are good for students. Children suffer when expectations are low. Every teacher, every school, and every district should have high expectations for all students. Unfortunately, disadvantaged students frequently face lower expectations, which contributes to less learning and lower performance.
- College access will become more equitable. Some students are not encouraged to think about college, or are led to believe it’s not a realistic option for them. As a result, many students never take the required entrance exam. This has a larger impact on students whose parents did not attend college, minority students, and students attending chronically low performing schools. The cost of taking the exam can also be a limiting factor.
- Related to the previous point, when students do not take the entrance exam, they may miss out on opportunities for financial assistance. Many scholarships go unclaimed because students do not take the ACT on time, or do not take it at all. While college may not be the right option for every student, that decision should be left up to students and not a system that is sometimes flawed.
For these reasons, the Nebraska Legislature should pass LB 930 and move towards higher, consistent standards for all students.