Educational and legislative leaders are hoping that giving a college entrance exam to all juniors in high school may encourage graduates to pursue a path to higher education.

A pilot program championed by state Rep. Rich Crandall, R-District 19, and financed in part by the Helios Foundation will see all juniors in selected school districts take the ACT college entrance exam. Currently, juniors voluntarily take the ACT or SAT entrance exams, though neither is required for entrance to an Arizona university.

Flagstaff Unified School District is one of eight school districts in Arizona that are participating.

“We started this pilot project with the idea of testing 15,000 kids, which is double the number of Arizona students who took the ACT in 2007,” said Crandall, who also is a member of the Mesa School Board. “Utilizing the results of this testing, we can do comparative analysis with other states, indentify weaknesses in the state’s high school curriculum and map ACT scores to AIMS scores, while also helping Arizona students prepare for college.”

Crandall has the full support of Northern Arizona University President John Haeger and FUSD superintendent Kevin Brown.

“This is a service to our students and their parents,” Brown said. “There may be some students who, after receiving scores, will become excited about higher education who may not have previously thought about attending college. The scores also will give students an idea of what they should focus on between now and when they graduate to boost their scores.”

Brown said more than 900 juniors will be taking the test today. Normally about a third of that number would be taking the ACT.

In a letter to Crandall, Haeger said, “Removing the financial and emotional barriers in deciding whether to take the ACT test in high school is one more positive step in providing a clear pathway to postsecondary education opportunities for our next generation.”

The test will be provided free of charge to students, who normally would pay $31 to take the test. School districts will pay approximately one-third of the cost with the remainder of the balance being provided by the Helios grant and several other contributions from Arizona foundations and corporations.

“While the ACT test is not required for entrance into Arizona’s public universities, taking the test is viewed by high school students as a step toward college,” Haeger added. “Students who may not currently consider attending college following high school may inquire further after scoring well on such a test. Additionally, participation in this test may spur family conversations about college, its benefits and the possibility for attending in families where such conversations do not currently occur.”

He also said universities can use these scores for student recruitment and scholarship consideration “which will increase the dialogue between universities and potential students and increase a student’s likelihood for financial aid.”

Educators and legislators also are hoping to weigh ACT scores against a student’s individual AIMS exam. They also can measure how Arizona students compare to students in other states who have taken the ACT.

In addition to the FUSD, participating school districts include Globe Unified District, Lake Havasu Unified District, Mesa Unified District 4, Peoria Unified District 11, Phoenix Union High School District 210,  Round Valley Unified District 10 and Window Rock Unified District 8.

Arizona ranks last in the percentage of students who take the ACT or SAT college entrance exam.