Twelve high school districts in North Dakota plan to take the ACT at the high school level in lieu of state assessments.

Under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, this school year districts had the option to administer a locally selected, nationally recognized assessment in place of the North Dakota assessments for math and English.

Some districts have decided to invoke that flexibility under ESSA to reduce testing time and allow students to take an assessment that "matters" to them, according to one school official. All students are required to take the ACT in grade 11.

The high school districts that plan to take the ACT instead of the state assessments are Beulah, Bismarck, Dakota Prairie in Petersburg, Fargo, Grand Forks, Harvey, Larimore, Mandan, McKenzie, Wahpeton, West Fargo and Zeeland.

Students in grades 3-8 and 10 are required to take state assessments in mathematics and English, as well as a state assessment in science in grades 4, 8 and 11. 

Because math and English standards were rewritten last year, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction decided to scrap the old assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and put out a request for proposals for a new testing provider to align with these new standards.

DPI has awarded the contract to the American Institutes for Research and is working out the contract’s final details. Its minimum cost will be just over $10 million for five years.

AIR, which was founded in 1946, "fuses statistics, technology and content into powerful K-12 formative, summative and supplemental products and services," according to its website. AIR had contracts with 22 states in 2015-16.

DPI sent out a survey last month to districts to determine how many do not plan to use the state assessments for math and English in high school, according to Dale Wetzel, a public information specialist for DPI. The survey's deadline was Monday. As of Tuesday morning, 123 of the 149 high school districts had responded.

Bismarck and Mandan school officials say the ACT better aligns with their districts' interests.

"We don't know what this new (state) assessment is, but we do know what the ACT is," Ben Johnson, Bismarck Public Schools secondary assistant superintendent, said in an interview last month. "It worked for our schools and our community."

Last month, administrators and principals met with parent advisory group representatives from the three high schools in Bismarck, and they voted on whether to approve taking the ACT instead of the state assesments, Johnson said. Of the 21 parents, all but one gave their full support for the move.

"The ACT matters to kids," Johnson said.

Officials from Bismarck and Mandan school districts indicated they opted to take the ACT in part to reduce testing time.

Jeff Lind, Mandan Public Schools assistant superintendent, said at a Mandan School Board meeting Monday that a committee composed of school board members, parents, teachers, staff and community members met last month and "unanimously recommended that we pursue the ACT option."

"One of the big discussion points was testing time," he said.

There are still some kinks that need to be worked out with districts switching from state assessments to the ACT, including whether it meets federal requirements, according to Wetzel.

More information on state assessments can be found on DPI's website.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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