ACT Updates Practices, but Misses the Mark

The+ACT+test+is+one+of+the+most+popular+standardized+tests%2C+with+over+1.8+million+students+in+the+2019+graduating+class+having+taken+the+test.

ACT.org

The ACT test is one of the most popular standardized tests, with over 1.8 million students in the 2019 graduating class having taken the test.

Syd Smith

Recent changes to the American College Testing system (more commonly known as the ACT) have modernized the dated practices of standardized testing. 

Last October, the official website revealed details about changes to the long-running program. Saying “Your Voice Has Been Heard and Our Research Agrees,” the company has decided to take some public input and update their practices. This comes after the prices and processes associated with the exam were seen as exclusionary and difficult for underprivileged populations to access. Still, many worry that these modernizations will only emphasize the stress and disparities caused by the ACT. 

Starting in September 2020, test-takers can retake single portions of the test, cutting down on time and stress. Many individuals report one section of the test bringing their overall score down, so now, to retake that section, they won’t have to go through the grueling, day-long process as before. 

Superscoring has also been approved for a September start, so students can average  multiple scores to send to colleges and post-secondary institutions. This raises the overall score and showcases the student’s strengths. Also, ACT reports say that students can now take the test online during select national test dates. Online testing will speed up the grading process, which has been criticized for its slow returns. 

However, these seemingly helpful additions could create even more barriers to success.

Superscoring seems to be the most straightforward change, and will most likely benefit everyone as it raises students’ overall scores. However, the exam is a pricey undertaking, costing $52-$68 depending on whether or not students choose to add the writing portion of the test.  It will still cost money to retake sections of the test, so while wealthy students will be able to perfect their score through retakes, that may not be an option for financially disadvantaged students. Those who can afford multiple tests will be able to go to more selective colleges as those schools value higher ACT scores, but families with a lower income will still be shut out.

Also, more testing automatically means more stress, regardless of the length of testing. Offering a Superscore option and individual section retakes is a generally positive change, but students will still sit for more exams and have to go through anxiety-provoking procedures. 

The relevance of the ACT has recently been called into question, with schools like the University of Chicago and Temple University switching to a “test-optional” application format. Changing the format would allow students to avoid sending in any standardized testing scores, and their merit would then be assessed based on their GPA and extracurriculars. According to FairTest.org, an organization that promotes equal opportunity in college admissions, over 1,070 colleges and universities offer a test-optional route to admissions. It is a positive change, as many students feel as though the pressure surrounding standardized testing exacerbates their stress. Eliminating the mandatory ACT report in college applications has helped to make the system more equal and recognize that there are multiple ways to display knowledge. The general public is realizing that standardized testing isn’t a universal experience and can create more barriers than opportunities.

Overall, the ACT meant well with these changes. Being able to retake individual tests, average your scores, and test online really will help some students score higher. However, these updates are neither accessible or equitable. Low-income students won’t be able to afford multiple retakes to take advantage of these changes and, as a result, will not score as well as their wealthier classmates. It’s clear that the ACT did not consider the equality of their system in both its creation and evolution.