Missouri will no longer offer the ACT for free to juniors

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Starting next year, Missouri will no longer pay for all public high school juniors to take the ACT for free after Gov. Eric Greitens cut $4 million in assessment funding.

In 2016, the year after Missouri began offering the free college entrance exam, the percentage of public school graduating seniors who took the test increased from 67.6 percent to 92 percent, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Offering the test for free is considered valuable because it can encourage more students to apply for college and it gives a more accurate picture of statewide student performance.

But 2016 also saw a noticeable drop in the average composite ACT score for Missouri students. It fell to 20.2 from 21.7 the year before. That’s slightly under the national average of 20.8.

At the same time, however, the percentage of Missouri graduates who tested at or above the national average increased from 30.9 percent to 39.5 percent, according to the state education department.

Average composite scores are expected to drop as more students take the ACT, since more students who may not have planned or prepared to take the test or attend college end up taking it if it’s free.

When more students in a school district take the ACT, it doesn’t just potentially increase the number of students who apply for or enter college. It can also help a district’s rating with the state, since Missouri rewards districts that have high percentages of graduates who have taken the ACT or other college standardized test and who have scored well on it.

There still is a way for students to take the ACT for free. Districts can request fee waivers from the national ACT organization for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a measure of poverty. The ACT costs $62.50 per test, including the writing component.

Parkway is one school district that will continue offering the test for free at its own expense, according to district spokeswoman Cathy Kelly. Parkway was one of the first area districts to offer the ACT for free years before Missouri did so.

Last year, 20 states administered the ACT to all public school graduates.

In addition to the $4 million assessment funding cut, Greitens reduced $15 million for school transportation this year.

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