State Board of Regents to administer ACT tests for Iowa students in August

High-school students graduating in 2020 or 2021 can take the ACT at state Board of Regents schools or centers. The scores can be shared with the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, and Iowa State University, or requested by Iowa community colleges.


Hannah Kinson

A sign for the ACT corporate office is seen on Monday, July 27, 2020 off of Scott Blvd. in Iowa City. (Hannah Kinson/The Daily Iowan)

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter

When preparing for the ACT, high-school students can control how much they study math, English, and science, but they can’t control test cancellations due to COVID-19.

To remedy these testing challenges, Iowa students graduating in 2020 and 2021 have the opportunity to take the ACT through the state Board of Regents in August. According to a press release from Josh Lehman, the regents’ Senior Communications Director, the tests will be administered at six locations across the state, including on the University of Iowa campus and at the UI Pappajohn Education Center in Des Moines.

Lehman said students will only be able to share the scores with regent institutions.

Pitchford said in past years the ACT has allowed individual campuses to administer the test through the ACT On-Campus Program, but the scores were only valid when the school students took the test. Of the Board of Regents schools, only the University of Iowa had offered these tests before, regents’ Chief Academic Officer Rachel Boon said.

Boon said the board was looking for a way to help students after tests were canceled in the spring and summer.

The solution they came up with was to administer more tests through the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa, and allowing scores to be accepted at any of the schools, regardless of testing location.

“The question then to ACT was, would they let us share the scores? Because typically when the scores are taken locally, they’re not allowed to be shared with any other institution, so we had to come to an agreement with ACT about their willingness to let us share the scores,” Boon said. “And once they said yes to that, then it was a no brainer.”

Don Pitchford, national director of Higher Education Partnerships at ACT, said the ACT has levels of test security and product management channels in place that vetted Iowa’s administration of the tests, and that the ACT is excited to partner with the state to provide this testing opportunity.

“It was the right, students-centered thing to do to best serve the Iowa students and the Iowa colleges,” Pitchford said.

In addition to scores being valid at Iowa public colleges, Iowa community colleges can also request the scores for placement purposes, Lehman said in the press release.

The tests will be offered in August and only available to Iowa high school students graduating in 2020 or 2021.

“Our focus right now was on the students who are eligible to apply for the next year because they are in the most need of it,” Boon said. “And we didn’t want to have those seats taken up by students who have a lot more time.”

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Brent Gage, associate vice president for Enrollment Management at the UI, said the university has received calls from potential students and their parents asking if the university was test-optional.

“There’s a good number of students who will be seniors this fall that have not had the opportunity to take the ACT yet,” Gage said. “And so, obviously, at a school like Iowa where we have the regent admission index, which is part of the state’s administrative code, to determine how we admit people, which includes the ACT, this is a challenge that we’re working almost every day with families on.”

Boon said students will be seated with 6 feet of distance in each direction in the testing rooms and will be required to wear masks. ACT proctors will be behind plexiglass barriers and there will be directions for how traffic should move in the room.

One of the testing rooms is a large lecture space in the Pappajohn Business Building at the UI. Gage said students will enter one at a time and will place their cellphones and smartwatches on a table with a number. They will sit at a space with the corresponding number. Students will fill the back of the room first and they will exit from the front when the test ends.

“We worked with our Critical Incident Management Team and the College of Public Health when we put together this proposal to do this test and worked closely with them to make sure all the safety protocols are in place to ensure distancing and to make sure that we can do it and do it safely,” Gage said.

Other states are looking at Iowa’s model and considering implementing a similar system at their schools. West Virginia has already implemented a similar setup, in which students can take the ACT at any college in the state and the scores will be shared with the state’s higher-education commission to be considered for the state’s scholarship program.

“We understand that there’s students who are very eager to get this test done and just haven’t been able to,” said Gage. “And so I think it’s really a great effort on the part of the regent institutions to try to solve a problem for the students.”