ATLANTA - Students at Georgia's public colleges and universities will be tested on their reading and writing skills earlier under a new policy adopted Tuesday by the university system Board of Regents.
Starting with the 2008-09 school year, students who don't qualify for an exemption will take the Regents Test before or shortly after beginning their first semester in college. Currently, students can take the test until they have completed 45 credit hours of college.
The purpose of giving the test earlier is to identify students who need extra help before it's too late, said Beheruz Sethna, the university system's interim chief academic officer.
"We can diagnose a problem early and, thus, help students early," he said.
Historically, the university system has used SAT scores to determine which students must take the Regents Test, first required in 1973.
Those who score 510 or higher on the verbal portion of the SAT are exempted from taking the Regents' Reading Test.
Students with a score of 560 or higher on the essay portion of the SAT don't have to take the Regents' Writing Test.
Typically, about 40 percent of students entering the system qualify for exemption.
Under the new policy, students who score 580 or higher on the Georgia High School Graduation Test also will be exempted from the Regents Test.
Sethna said the graduation test will be a useful diagnostic tool for determining which students might have trouble with the Regents Test.
He said statistics show students who score less than 515 on the graduation test and less than 400 on the verbal part of the SAT have an 86 percent chance of failing the Regents Test.
Students who fail the exam must take additional courses to improve writing and college-level reading.
The proposed policy Sethna presented to board members Tuesday called for giving the Regents Test earlier to students who scored less than 515 on the graduation test.
But Regent Richard Tucker of Duluth said the university system would send a stronger message by making all students who aren't exempt from the Regents Test take it early.
"There's no penalty for failure," he said. "Why not have them all do it?"
The rest of the board agreed with Tucker and adopted the policy change unanimously.
Sethna said it will be a logistical challenge to test an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 students just before or at the beginning of their college careers.
But he said the payoff will be ensuring students who fail the test register for the additional courses no later than the second semester of their freshman year.
"Hopefully, more students will graduate on time," he said.