With COVID-19 curtailing options for high schoolers to take the ACT — required for automatic admission to one of Iowa’s public universities — the Board of Regents is hoping to bridge the gap by offering new opportunities on campus.
Beginning in August, any Iowa high school student graduating this winter or in spring 2021 will be able to take the ACT for $80 on the University of Iowa, Iowa State University or University of Northern Iowa campuses. The regents also plan opportunities at the UI Pappajohn Education Center in Des Moines and the Western Iowa Regents Resource Centers in Sioux City and Council Bluffs.
However, scores from those tests will be shared only with the board’s public universities and partner community colleges by request — meaning students can’t use their regent-administered test scores to apply to other colleges or universities or share them with their high schools.
Some high schoolers have had difficulty scheduling an ACT exam as the Iowa City-based testing operation has eliminated thousands of options in response to the pandemic.
In May, ACT announced over 2,600 canceled test sites for June. Remaining locations operated at half capacity — resulting in more students wanting to take the test than could.
Although ACT earlier this summer announced plans for online testing beginning in September, officials earlier this month postponed the planned launch.
Instead, ACT is focused on adding capacity for those needing “full ACT scores for admission and scholarship applications.” But Monday, ACT found itself responding to “an unfortunate situation where students showed up to canceled test centers for the July 18 national test administration.”
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Although more than 88,000 students succeeded in testing at more than 1,100 sites, about 1,400 at 21 canceled sites were unable to do so, according to ACT.
“We know we have work to do to earn back trust and provide a positive experience for all who engage with us,” ACT said in a statement.
In response to a question from The Gazette about whether cancellations compelled the board’s new testing opportunities, spokesman Josh Lehman said regents have been “monitoring the national testing situation closely” and were aware cancellations and delays were creating challenges for students.”
“These on-campus testing opportunities are designed to give students who wish to attend one of the regent universities additional access to testing,” he said.
ACT scores are a key part of the board’s “regent admissions index,” through which Iowa high school students can achieve automatic admission to one of the state’s three public universities. The formula — which also weighs grade-point average and high school courses — is outlined in the Iowa Administrative Rules, which don’t allow the board to admit students automatically without ACT or SAT scores.
“However, any student that does not currently have a standardized test score is still encouraged to apply to one of our universities,” Lehman said. “They could be admitted via holistic review, and could submit their standardized test score at a later time.”
Like it has nationally, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended budgets and academic plans across Iowa’s regent institutions — with each losing tens of millions and projecting more hits this fall with enrollment dips and tuition losses.
Regent officials this week said health and safety protocols will be in place for their ACT test operations — including mandatory masks for test takers, social distancing requirements and symptom checks.
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Students, however, must assume the risk of contracting COVID-19 even as the institutions take enhanced health and safety measures, a release form states.
Campus staff will run the tests; officials don’t expect that will create extra costs for the board.
ACT typically charges students $52 to take the test, excluding the writing portion. Lehman said the board will use revenue from its $80 registration fee to administer the test and cover overhead.
As of last week, about 200 students had registered for a regents-administered ACT exam.
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