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Montana Drops Smarter Balanced, Chooses ACT for High School Test

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Montana announced Monday that its 11th grade students will be required to take the ACT, instead of the Smarter Balanced assessment, this school year.

The move is the latest in a series that feature states migrating from standards-based tests to college-entrance exams as their official high school tests for federal accountability purposes.

It's a shift that offers cause for worry in the two federally funded testing consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, and cause for high-fives in whichever college-entrance-exam company wins the latest statewide contract.

A half-dozen states have won permission from the U.S. Department of Education to use the SAT or ACT for the school reports required by federal law, and others are talking with ACT or the College Board as they explore similar moves. Using college-entrance exams for accountability comes with some big caveats, though.

The high school testing marketplace is reshaping in other ways, too, as rivals ACT and the College Board duke it out for territory. Recently, Illinois threw over its longtime vendor, ACT, in favor of the SAT.

In Montana, concern about too much time spent in testing was a key factor influencing the state's decision to drop Smarter Balanced in high school and use the ACT instead.

"Montana is one of 13 states that provides the ACT to all juniors for free," Superintendent Denise Juneau said in a press release. "It doesn't make sense to ask juniors to take the ACT and the Smarter Balanced assessment. The change will cut testing time for public high school students by two-thirds, and allow them to focus on preparing for college and career."

Students in grades 3 to 8 will continue to take the Smarter Balanced assessment.

The results from last spring's administration aren't being used for accountability because of technical problems giving the test in Montana last year.

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