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Evolving ACT

June 6, 2014

ACT is today unveiling a series of changes -- most involving the addition of new scores -- to its college admissions test.

The changes to the test itself are relatively minor, such that ACT officials predict that a student taking the exam this year (under the current system) and next year (under the new one) might not notice the difference during the test itself. But the score report will have a series of additions to the 1-36 scores students now receive for each section (English, mathematics, reading and science) and as a composite score of those four.

The new scores will include:

  • A STEM score based on students' scores on the math and science sections.
  • An English language score based on students' scores on English, reading and writing.
  • A "progress toward career readiness" score that will be based on students' demonstrated knowledge in areas that could set them up for success in the work place.
  • A "text complexity progress indicator" that will be based on all of the writing passages (not just in the reading section).
  • New scores on the optional writing test (on which students currently receive an overall score) so they will receive separate additional scores on ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use.

Among the tweaks to the test itself:

  • Probability and statistics may see a very slight increase in the mathematics section (from 3 questions to 4 out of 60).
  • Some of the reading comprehension questions -- to date based on single passages -- will be based on comparing or drawing information from two separate passages.

The changes being announced come three months after the College Board announced a major overhaul of the SAT, which historically led the ACT in market share for college admissions testing, but has lost that position to ACT in recent years. ACT officials said their announcement was not a response to the College Board, and they have credibility in saying so, given that the company announced plans to head in this direction in 2009 and has spent years doing pilots of different scoring and testing ideas. College Board officials declined to comment on the changes announced by ACT.

ACT officials said that they viewed students as the primary beneficiaries of the new information that will be generated (although they stressed colleges could benefit as well). The new scores should allow a high school student (particularly one with some time left in high school) to identify weak spots in preparation and to improve. In other cases, students might be surprised to find out that they are doing so well in areas (such as STEM) that they may want to consider college study in STEM disciplines -- or a career.

Paul Weeks, vice president of customer engagement at ACT, said that "we're trying to bring this back to a student focus, to sharing scores that would make a student understand relative strengths and weaknesses."

He also said that scores were directly related to skills students need in college (such as reading complicated texts) that cross over the ACT's historic subject categories.

Asked if students and their families or high school counselors would spend time analyzing all the scores, Weeks said that he thought many would immediately welcome the information, which shows that students are more than any one single score.

He acknowledged that some people "unfortunately will only look at the composite scores." But he said that ACT was gearing up to help educate students, counselors, admissions officers and others about the additional information they could gain. "Time will tell," he said, "but we'll do our best to show the potential."

 

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