All School District 2 sophomores will take a Pre-ACT test this spring, mirroring the system where all juniors take the traditional ACT.
The move will result in a testing day for those classes on March 20 — and freshman and seniors will have the day off, school officials announced at Monday's school board meeting.
The district had hoped to extend Pre-ACT testing to freshman and send seniors to the Career Center for a college and career expo, but the transportation didn't work out.
All juniors in Montana began taking the ACT at state cost in 2014, and state officials announced it would be used for required federal testing in 2016. The ACT is widely used as a college-admissions test.
SD2 superintendent Terry Bouck said the addition of the Pre-ACT will hopefully improve test scores.
"Let's face it: ACT is high-stakes testing," Bouck said.
State officials billed the switch for juniors to the ACT from Smarter Balanced, a version of the test that students in grades 3-8 take, as reducing overall testing for high schools and getting more students interested in attending college.
But it's also resulted in logistical headaches in Billings high schools.
SD2 assessment director Roger Dereszynski said requirements for testing environments like seating boundaries and proctor-student ratios stretched both buildings and staff, to the point of recruiting elementary school counselors and retired teachers as test proctors.
"As this happens, life must go on for freshman, sophomores and seniors," he said.
With the additions of sophomores into a test pool, about 950 students at Senior High will be tested this year, said Principal Jeff Uhren, requiring nearly the full building.
Dereszynski cited research showing that students who take the ACT a second time improve 2.9 points. The test is scored on a 36-point scale.
The ACT testing company rolled out the pre-test last year, billing it as a shorter version of the ACT that would be "the ultimate preparation and practice."
SD2 will pay for the testing, Dereszynski said. He didn't have a precise cost available Monday.
SD2 announced in November that the shuttered Rimrock school building would be re-opened as a special education preschool center next school year.
There's a reason that it won't be a K-5 elementary school.
"It's really clear the neighborhoods are aging out," said SD2 Career and Technical Business Liaison Lew Anderson, who previously worked as the district bond manager.
Both Rose Park and Highland elementary schools are located a little more than a mile away.
"They have the schools to serve the needs for now and in the next five to ten years," Anderson said.
The district is having demographic projections used to inform its strategic plan by projecting school enrollment. The new projections are expected this winter.