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ACT to Expand Testing by Computer

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A computer-based practice ACT English test is displayed on a computer monitor Wednesday, May 6, 2015, in Washington. The ACT is announcing May 8, 2015, that computer-based testing of the ACT would be available next year in the states and districts that require students to take the ACT during the school day. About 1 million students could be affected.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

A computer-based practice ACT English test is displayed on a computer monitor Wednesday, May 6, 2015, in Washington. The ACT is announcing May 8, 2015, that computer-based testing of the ACT would be available next year in the states and districts that require students to take the ACT during the school day. About 1 million students could be affected. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

KIMBERLY HEFLING, AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — ACT test takers take note: The No. 2 pencil is losing its cachet. Greater numbers of high school students will be able to take the college entrance exam on a computer next year.

The ACT announced Friday that computer-based testing will be available next year in the 18 states and additional districts that require students, typically juniors, to take the ACT during the school day. About 1 million students could be affected.

But don’t throw away those pencils yet.

Participating schools provide the computers for testing, and ACT officials say it’s too early to predict how many schools will be ready next year to offer the online testing. Even where computer-based testing is available, ACT officials said the traditional paper test will still be an option.

The announcement follows a two-year pilot project that allowed about 10,000 high school students to take the college-placement exam by computer, laptop or tablet.

The ACT said it’s not making computer-based testing available on its traditional Saturday morning test dates largely because of the number of computers needed.

Paul Weeks, senior vice president for client relations at ACT, said the Iowa City, Iowa-based company is making the transition to online testing “thoughtfully and gradually,” so that all stakeholders can be assured that test scores on the computerized version are comparable to the paper version, which has been offered since 1959.

What won’t change? The familiar 36-point scale and the amount of time it takes for students to find out their scores, which is usually between two weeks and two months.

“There is no difference between the tests except that it’s online and that was really important to us,” said Kaitlynn Griffith, ACT’s program director.

The move to online testing is a reflection of the evolving ways students learn in classrooms and the ease at which they use computers. ACT is far from alone in making the transition to computer-based testing.

Next year, the College Board has said it will roll out the new version of the competing SAT college entrance exam and make computer-based testing an option. The SAT was once the dominant college admissions exam, but it was overtaken in popularity in 2012 by the ACT.

Computer-based testing, including standardized tests based on the Common Core standards, has led schools to upgrade Internet connectivity, make devices such as laptops or tablets available, and teach more keyboarding.

It also brings up new questions in test administration, such as in the area of cheating. While moving to online testing eliminates the ability to erase and change answers by educators, there are new issues such as the need to prevent test takers from taking screen grabs of test questions to share with others.

Weeks said the company has been grappling with these issues as it makes the transition. ACT suggests that students take a practice test on computer before taking an online test, and encourages schools that will offer the tests to go through a test preparation checklist.

Weeks said online testing could open the door for ACT to offer more modular testing, so that a student doesn’t have to take every subject on the same day.

“The best preparation for the ACT has been and continues to be taking rigorous core course,” Weeks said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re testing online or not.”

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Online: http://www.act.org/

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Follow Kimberly Hefling on Twitter: http://twitter.com/khefling

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Education

Student Freedom Initiative Launches Inaugural Program at HBCUs Across U.S.

Inspired by Robert F. Smith’s 2019 “Morehouse Gift,’ Initiative will provide STEM majors at 9 HBCUs a more equitable alternative to fund their education

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Inspired by Robert F. Smith's 2019 'Morehouse Gift,' the Student Freedom Initiative will provide stem majors at 9 HBCUs with a more equitable alternative to fund their education.

The Student Freedom Initiative (SFI), an organization that provides science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors income-contingent funding in lieu of traditional college loans that have long wreaked havoc on their financial futures, launched on nine HBCU campuses across the country on September 7.

Inspired by the 2019 gift by Robert F. Smith to Morehouse College graduates that erased 100% of student loan debt for them and their parents, the Student Freedom Initiative was created by Smith to further alleviate the longstanding financial burdens Black students face, disproportionate to their white counterparts.

The inaugural list of institutions includes: Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Florida A&M University, Hampton University, Morehouse College, Prairie View A&M University, Tougaloo College, Tuskegee University, and Xavier University of Louisiana.

“Through the Student Freedom Initiative, we hope to give Black students access to the education they need to move forward in this economy without the burden of student loan debt stopping them from realizing their fullest potential,” said Smith who serves as chairman of the Student Freedom Initiative. “While our community continues to face inequities that too often bar young students of color from accessing quality higher education, the Student Freedom Initiative aims to empower our students with the tools they need to control their financial futures.”

On average, Black students who graduate with bachelor’s degrees accrue $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. This gap only widens across the gender divide, with Black women carrying roughly 20% more student debt than white women, owing an estimated $41,466 in undergraduate loans compared to the $33,851 white women owe.

To address the unequal financial burden faced by these students, the Student Freedom Initiative created its Student Freedom Agreement, an income-contingent funding agreement based on a ‘pay it forward’ concept, meaning payments are only made when the individual is working. SFI has begun dispersing Student Freedom Agreement funds to eligible junior and senior STEM majors attending one of its nine inaugural partner schools.

HBCU students have traditionally been more likely than non-HBCU students to turn to Parent PLUS or private loans for additional funding to cover remaining costs for their education. On average, 63% of students at HBCUs rely on Parent Plus loans. The resulting default rate is five times as high in the Black community when compared to their white counterparts, and the average debt is twice as high in the Black community as long as four years after graduation.

“We are taking a holistic approach to support and empower our students,” said Mark Brown, executive director of the Student Freedom Initiative. “Not only are we providing our students financing to pursue their education, but the Student Freedom Initiative is also providing them with career development opportunities established through partnerships with Fortune 100 companies. Eligible students receive paid internship opportunities during their college careers to prepare them for post-graduate life. We’re betting on them that given the right investment, these students will go out and do well.”

Additionally, with the help of tech partners including Cisco and AVC Technologies, the Student Freedom Initiative is visiting HBCU campuses throughout the 2021-22 academic year to provide free technology infrastructure upgrades. SFI and its partners will work directly with HBCUs to identify gaps between their existing infrastructure and the requirements identified by the Department of Education Federal Student Aid (FSA) program and install the necessary solutions to address these gaps and become cybersecure.

To date, over 22 HBCUs have signed agreements to achieve campus cyber security through infrastructure upgrades, with additional schools signing up daily.

Together with Cisco’s contribution of $150 million, the Student Freedom Initiative has received over $250 million in pledges, including a generous contribution from the Walmart Foundation as part of its first round of grants for The Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity, and support from the United Negro College Fund. In addition, the program has been acknowledged and supported by the Business Roundtable’s Racial Equity & Justice Subcommittee on Education.

About Student Freedom Initiative

The Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom in professional and life choices for junior and senior students pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees. Initially focused on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), SFI is a student-centered, evidence-based, and holistic initiative featuring four transformative components: (1) an income contingent alternative to fixed payment obligations used to finance college, (2) immersive work experiences through paid internships (3) executive mentoring, tutoring, and other student services and (4) mission-critical technology infrastructure upgrades at participating HBCUs. SFI collaborates with community-based organizations, businesses and governmental entities through public-private partnerships to make sustainable, systemic changes to support the entire HBCU ecosystem.

To learn more, visit StudentFreedomInitiative.org.

For more information, contact Sakita Holley at SFI@hos-pr.com

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Business

Advocates: Internet Companies Must Partner With Ethnic Media to Close Digital Divide

Last week, Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 156 into law. That legislation requires the state to make a multi-billion dollar investment into the construction of a state-owned open access network of internet cable with several offshoot lines that will connect unserved households and businesses mostly in urban and rural areas.  

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Laptop and phone photo courtesy Benjamin Dada via Unsplash

Digital equity advocates – people who have been working for decades now to come up with solutions to narrow the divide between people who are connected to broadband and those who still aren’t – say Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must partner with the ethnic media to reach people in California who remain unconnected and under-connected to broadband service.

“We have focused on the importance of community and Ethnic Media. We think that the Internet Service Providers should be advertising with (ethnic media), reaching out to you and connecting with you,” said Sunne McPeak, CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) a statewide non-profit with offices in Concord and Los Angeles dedicated to closing the digital divide.

McPeak says, with its 91% broadband adoption rate, California has done a remarkable job getting people online with stable access to high-speed internet connections that can improve their quality of life. That number has skyrocketed from 55% in 2008.

However, there are still 6 million Californians, she says, who are not connected or under-connected (those with only smartphone access) to broadband. Most of those people live in low-income households.

Among Californians who are not connected to high-speed internet, 8% — more than half of them – are Black, according to CETF.

“There is still clearly a divide among groups that are most digitally disadvantaged socioeconomically,” McPeak said. “No state has more low-income people than California. Fifteen percent of our population is low income.”

McPeak was speaking during a news briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services last week titled “Trapped by the Digital Divide: Demanding Universal Broadband as a Basic Right.”

McPeak was joined on the online conference by Angela Siefer, executive director of the Cleveland-based National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).

Siefer shared national numbers that reflect that the vast majority of people who are still not connected to the internet live in urban areas, challenging a widely held notion that rural areas remain the regions most unconnected to broadband in the United States.

“Prior to the pandemic, 36 million U.S. households did not have an internet connection in their home,” said Seifer. “Of that number, 26 million are urban and 10 million are rural. I want to confirm the bigger number piece of this is urban.”

In addition to having a high broadband adoption rate, California continues to take a number of steps to make sure there is universal connectivity to broadband.

Last week, Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 156 into law. That legislation requires the state to make a multi-billion dollar investment into the construction of a state-owned open access network of internet cable with several offshoot lines that will connect unserved households and businesses mostly in urban and rural areas.

“As we work to build California back stronger than before, the state is committed to addressing the challenges laid bare by the pandemic, including the digital divide holding back too many communities in a state renowned for its pioneering technology and innovation economy,” said Newsom at a rural elementary school in Tulare County.

“This $6 billion investment will make broadband more accessible than ever before, expanding opportunity across the spectrum for students, families and businesses – from enhanced educational supports to job opportunities to health care and other essential services,’ the governor continued.

Also continuing to ensure as many Californians as possible not only have access to broadband but also have reliable equipment to connect to it, California State University announced that it will give all incoming students and transfers at eight of its campuses across the state new iPad air tablets. The package includes accessories, including smart keyboards. The only requirement for the students is to register at a website called CSUSUCCESS (CSU Connectivity Contributing to Equity and Student Success)

“CSUCCESS will assure that students have immediate access to innovative, new mobile tools they need to support their learning, particularly when faced with the lingering effects of the pandemic,” CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro said, announcing the initiative.

McPeak says while there are a number of programs like the federal Emergency Benefit Broadband program that can help Americans connect to high-speed internet more affordably, many people are just not aware of them.

“We have to ask, what are (the ISPs) doing to work with ethnic media and community organizations?” asked McPeak.

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Business

Cal AG Rob Bonta Hits Google with Lawsuit Over “Play Store”

“Google has violated the trust of Android phone customers by limiting consumer choice and raking in outrageous commissions on app developers. Android customers are effectively stuck using the Google Play Store for apps, where they pay a premium,” said Bonta on July 7.

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Phone with Google apps courtesy Pathum Danthanarayana via Unsplash

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the California Department of Justice (DOJ) is joining a multistate lawsuit against Google.

In the claim, California joins 35 other states and the District of Columbia in accusing the Mountain View-based company of violating national and state laws (the federal Sherman Antitrust Act and California’s Cartwright Act) with its Google Play Store’s monopolization of the smartphone app market.

“Google has violated the trust of Android phone customers by limiting consumer choice and raking in outrageous commissions on app developers. Android customers are effectively stuck using the Google Play Store for apps, where they pay a premium,” said Bonta on July 7.

Calling Google’s dominance of the Android-app market “anti-competitive,” Bonta pointed out that customers are impacted the most by Google’s actions.

“A more competitive app marketplace could open innovation, leading to more choice, better payment processing, improved customer service, and enhanced data security,” he added.

The lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is the second multi-state lawsuit California has joined against the tech giant. Last year, Cal DOJ joined another U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit claiming Google stifles its competition by signing exclusionary agreements with smartphone manufacturers to dominate their operating systems, blocking out its search engine and other app competitors.

“In the absence of Google’s anticompetitive conduct, there would be two main channels for consumers to obtain apps on an open Android operating system: (i) direct downloading and installation of apps or app stores; and (ii) apps or app stores pre-installed on devices by device manufacturers and/or mobile network operators,” reads the 144-page complaint in which phrases with sensitive information have been redacted.

“But Google has closed off its purportedly ‘open’ Android operating system from competition in app distribution,” it continues. “To accomplish this, Google degraded direct distribution channels, and then cut deals to discourage and disincentivize any remaining potential competition.”

Responding to the states’ legal action, Google’s senior director of government affairs and policy Wilson White wrote in a blog post that the suit isn’t about fairness. Instead, in his view, it’s about a “handful” of developers who want access to the benefits of Google’s app store without paying for it.

“The complaint limits its definition of app marketplace to Android devices only. This completely ignores the competition we face from other platforms such as Apple’s incredibly successful app store, which accounts for the majority of mobile app store revenues, according to third party estimates,” White wrote.

White insists Google allows both developers and consumers to have options.

“Device makers and carriers can preload competing app stores alongside Google Play on their devices,” he said. “In fact, most android devices ship with two or more app stores preloaded. And popular Android devices such as the Amazon Fire tablet come preloaded with a competitive app store and no Google Play Store.”

Technically, Bonta says, consumers do have the option to install app stores they choose or to buy apps directly from developers. But he says Google discourages this “type of sideloading through a convoluted process that forces users to click through often-misleading security warnings and multiple permission screens.”

“This burdensome series of red flags leaves consumers with the impression that alternative app stores are inferior at best and high risk at worst. Over 90 % of all Android app distribution in the United States is done through Google’s Play Store,” said the Cal DOJ in a press release.

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