Anger Over Canceled ACT Scores

A high school in Tennessee, backed by local politicians, isn’t accepting explanations for why scores on test taken in good faith shouldn’t count.

November 27, 2017

Despite all the protocols about standardized tests, sometimes there are mishaps on testing day and some number of unfortunate students find their scores canceled. Most of the time, the students didn't cheat or do anything inappropriate but happened to be at the wrong testing center at the wrong time. Such snafus always result in complaints from students, but the issue typically fades away.

This isn't the case in Knox County, Tenn., where educators at Bearden High School, backed by the local mayor, are refusing to be quiet and simply sign their students up (free of charge) for the next ACT. The scores of 409 students have been canceled.

The unlucky students took the ACT Oct. 17. Unknown to them (or their high school), the students took the same ACT that had been used in some locations Oct. 3. There were no dates on the exam that would have clued people in that something was wrong.

Testing companies take very seriously the issue of errors in which a test is repeated. Many cheating schemes involve people taking a test and then sharing questions and answers. While that's not what happened in Knox County, it is an issue that causes much fear among those who run tests.

As detailed in The Knoxville News Sentinel, much of the anger comes from a sense that the ACT doesn't always respond as it did in the Tennessee case. The newspaper reported on similar errors in Ohio high schools early in the year. In those cases, with 1,300 scores in danger of being canceled, ACT let the scores stand (amid pressure from the various schools).

Simply taking the test later (the ACT has offered a December administration for the Tennessee students) doesn't solve their problems, students say. Many want scores now to submit to colleges or to figure out their odds of being admitted to certain institutions. And then there is the question of being punished for something that's not their fault.

One high school senior told the News Sentinel, "I don't think ACT should be able to bully kids like that, considering they have so much power and control over every kid's future who wants to further their education."

ACT is expressing sympathy for the students but standing by its decision.

Ed Colby, a spokesman for the ACT, said via email that the organization has a standard policy of canceling scores if the wrong test is given.

He said that it was correct that ACT did not cancel the scores in Ohio as it has done in Tennessee. He said that ACT found "a unique set of circumstances" in Ohio, and deviated from ACT's normal policy.

But he said that the situation in Ohio "compelled us to thoroughly revisit and review our policies. The result of this analysis was to reinforce the importance of those policies and the need to adhere to them in the future. In the interim, we put in place new measures to avoid such instances, and we will continue our efforts to improve communications, systems and procedures in the future."

A strict interpretation of the rules is important, Colby said. "Our users count on ACT scores to make informed decisions that impact people’s lives. It is imperative that ACT be able to stand behind the scores that we send to colleges and scholarship agencies. Our policy stands: ACT will not release scores in instances of a misadministration."


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