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Bill requiring ACT fails, but standardized test changes still looming

A classroom in the Bailey Rotunda at South Dakota State University in Brookings.
South Dakota State University
A classroom in the Bailey Rotunda at South Dakota State University in Brookings.

A bill that would mandate the ACT as a standardized test in South Dakota has been tabled in committee.

Looking forward though, it’s still a change likely to come in the next few years.

House Bill 1002 was brought by Sioux Falls Republican Tony Venhuizen this session as a more useful alternative to traditional standardized tests, known in South Dakota as the SBA

Venhuizen said the ACT is simply more practical for students.

“Today we have a different test, called the Smarter Balance Test, that we use to measure schools by having all 11th graders take it. But it’s not a test that does the students any good," Venhuizen said. "It doesn’t count for anything. Then many of those students, most of them, turn around and take the ACT test at their own expense.”

Venhuizen cited the most recent Department of Education statistics available which found 58 percent of students took the ACT in addition to the state standardized tests.

Though the bill was tabled, it attracted key supporters in the education field. That includes Joe Graves, secretary of the state Department of Education, who announced his support for the bill in committee.

“I’ve always said it’s better not to pass a bill if you don’t need to," Venhuizen said. "In this case, Sec. Graves and the Department of Education have committed to making this change over the next couple years in adopting the ACT test. I think that’s a good change, it’s what I wanted to see happen. I don’t need to see a bill passed to make something happen that was going to happen anyway.”

Graves said he’d like to see this implemented in the next two school years.

“The South Dakota Department of Education is pursuing this hopefully after next school year," Graves said. "So, this 23-24, 24-25 we’re going to stick with SBA, hopefully for 25-26 I’m fairly confident that’s going to happen. It will save people some money, it will reduce testing in our accountability system, the ACT will be taken more seriously by students, and it’s more useful for students. It has a lot of benefits.”

There was minimal opposition testimony, mainly focused on student opt-outs and a potential hit to overall standardized testing scores.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture