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Grab your No. 2 pencil: For first time, state paying for all MN juniors to take ACTs

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Thousands of Minnesota high school students will take one of the most important tests of their lives Tuesday.

This is the first school year that all 64,000 juniors are required to take the American College Test (ACT) – or a similar exam – to graduate from public high school.

This graduation requirement is meant to increase students' access to the test, which is required for many college applications. No minimum score is needed to graduate, and students can opt out of taking the exam.

Minnesota is among 20 other states providing the exam for free to all students, the Pioneer Press says, and many districts – including Anoka-Hennepin, Minneapolis and St. Paul – offered additional test prep classes to better prepare students for the exam.

The state is paying ACT $13.5 million for two years of testing, reports say.

Schools face testing challenges

Districts across the state have had to iron out some wrinkles prior to Tuesday's testing day due to the strict set of requirements a school must follow during the exam.

The Star Tribune looked at the planning and rearranging some districts had to do in order to meet testing protocol, which includes giving other students something to do – either a day off, a field trip or doing classwork online.

Freshmen, sophomores and seniors at Roseville High School will have the day off Tuesday, while those grades at Wayzata High School get a "virtual day," where students are required to engage in remote learning activities that were pre-assigned by teachers.

Other schools have planned alternate schedules for students who aren't taking the test. At Jordan High School, freshmen and sophomores will go on a field trip, while seniors don't have school, but are required to turn in assignments online. At Edina High School, sophomores will have reviews for AP tests, while seniors don't have school.

Not all educators in support

Those who support offering the $54 ACT exam free to all students say it allows more people to take the test, encourages students to start thinking about college earlier, and may prompt some students to consider going to college who otherwise wouldn't have, reports note.

But despite these benefits, some educators say it's not the best option, noting this type of universal assessment isn't valuable – especially for those who aren't interested in college.

Minnesota students are already required to take the MCAs, which districts use to measure student progress toward the state's academic standards.

"The test is not designed for this purpose. It's not designed for that kind of statewide assessment," Dennis Peterson, superintendent for Minnetonka schools, told Big Fish Lifestyle. "It's designed for college entrance, so students who intend to go to college have historically taken it."

An estimated 76 percent of Minnesota's high school graduating class in 2014 took the ACT, obtaining an average composite score of 23 – the highest in the nation for the ninth year in a row.

The national average was 21.

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