Minnesota's requirement that all high school juniors take the ACT test on the state dime is proving to be short-lived, after lawmakers cut the funding that paid for the exam.

Schools will still be required to offer the test to juniors and seniors who want to take it, but districts will have to apply to the state for reimbursement of the testing costs. The Legislature set aside $3 million per year for that purpose.

The change is one of many that Minnesota students will see in the 2015-16 school year as a result of the Legislature slicing the Minnesota Department of Education testing budget nearly in half, from $42 million to $22 million.

"There's too many tests," said Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, chair of the E-12 Finance and Policy Committee and a co-author of the bill. "Too much time is being spent on tests, which takes away from teaching."

Wiger said that he and other lawmakers heard testimony from a number of superintendents who said the ACT should be optional. Some students had already taken it and didn't want to test again, while others had no interest in taking the college entrance exam, he said.

The ACT was given to every junior on April 28, the first time it was administered at schools statewide. Taking the test was a graduation requirement, and education department officials said it would help students who couldn't afford the $54 cost. The department agreed to pay ACT $13.5 million to administer the test for two years.

"Getting rid of the ACT, to us, is really a step back," said Kevin McHenry, assistant commissioner for the Department of Education, noting that the department can get out of the ACT contract.

'Mixed message' from Legislature

Several school officials expressed surprise at the change of plans.

"To be honest, I'm floored," said Phil Trout, a college counselor at Minnetonka High School. "Somebody obviously got in there who was a member of the bandwagon called 'way too much testing.' "

Cuts to the state's testing budget will also affect other tests. Multiple tests that were planned to be phased out after the 2015-16 school year will be cut a year early, including ACT prep tests in earlier grades and the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment GRAD tests in composition, reading and math.

The Legislature also reduced the total number of hours students can spend on nonstate standardized tests. Elementary school students cannot spend more than 10 hours testing per year, while grades seven through 12 are limited to 11 hours annually.

"Here we are in the time of [testing] accountability, and our No. 1 resource to school districts is having budget cuts," said Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. "There's a mixed message from the Legislature."