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17 N.D. school districts get OK to use ACT to test for math, English proficiency

Kirsten Baesler in April 2016 in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

BISMARCK—17 school districts have been given the go-ahead to use the ACT exam in place of a required state math and English achievement test for high school students, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler announced Wednesday, March 7.

North Dakota is the first state in the nation to obtain permission to use the ACT, instead of a separate state test, as a locally selected measurement of student math and English proficiency, Baesler said.

High School students in the 17 districts will no longer have to take the North Dakota State Assessment. Instead, they will take the ACT in the 11th grade. Both the State Assessment and the ACT measure a student's proficiency in math and English.

The change, requested by the districts, will allow some students to take one less standardized test in high school, Baesler said. The move is a response to concerns by parents and teachers that students were taking too many tests, she said.

West Fargo Assistant Superintendent Allen Burgad said the district's staff had discussed the issue for a while and though there was some worry about how well the ACT aligns with North Dakota's education standards, "it was close to unanimous" to go with ACT.

"We're somewhat excited about it," Burgad said, adding that it's believed students will "take ownership" of the test..

"That's the college entrance exam," Burgad said.

Baesler said students generally regard the ACT as more important than the state assessment. The ACT is a widely-used college entrance exam, and North Dakota students must earn a composite ACT score of 24 or greater to qualify for up to $6,000 in state college scholarship aid.

Districts making the switch are Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks, Wahpeton, Bismarck, Williston, Mandan, Beulah, Dakota Prairie (based in Petersburg), Fordville-Lankin, Goodrich, Harvey, Larimore, Lidgerwood, Sargent Central, White Shield and Zeeland.

The 17 districts have 3,735 students in the 11th grade, or half of the 7,533 high school juniors in the state.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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