ACT Announces Major Changes for 2020


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ACT changes are to take place in September 2020.

Bishop’s students will find the standardized testing process easier than previous years as they enter the competitive college admissions process next year. American College Testing (ACT) Incorporated announced in October that it would allow students who want to improve their test scores the opportunity to retake individual sections of the ACT as many times as they want, starting in September 2020. The change would primarily allow students to retry certain sections and avoid receiving weaker scores on sections they may have done better in previously. “ACT Inc. made the decision…based on research findings and extensive feedback from students, parents, teachers, counselors and college admission professionals,” ACT Senior Director of Media and Public Relations Mr. Ed Colby stated.

The five subsections of the ACT include English, math, reading, science, and writing (optional). Each section is graded on a scale from 1 to 36, and the four major scores are averaged to produce a composite score. However, students’ composite scores often fail to accurately represent their knowledge or potential success in other sections, because of the average rule. And, until the changes are made, students that want a higher ACT score are required to take the entire test again, even if they are only trying to improve one individual section score.  “Our research suggested that scores earned in individual section retakes are comparable to scores earned when students take the entire ACT test again,” Mr. Colby claimed. “The feedback we received suggested that single section retakes would be seen as a big benefit and welcomed enthusiastically, particularly by students.”

However, these changes raise fundamental questions about both the use of test scores and the assumptions underlying standardized testing. Both the SAT and ACT have always been designed to be marathons rather than sprints. The physical and mental ordeal of spending three to four hours testing has always been part of the game. But, are there valid reasons for that? Does a longer, more grueling test produce ‘better,’ more valid results? Do the tests actually measure aptitude/intelligence or stamina? Lila Chitayat (‘21) stated, “I think that the opportunity to take individual sections would be really beneficial for students. This way, instead of sitting through the entire test another time, students can just take the section they would like to get a higher score in without it taking three to four hours. It’s more fair to the students and allows them to focus on areas they have difficulty in.”

The change to taking a single section of the ACT is likely to change the playing field of scores. But, should a score where multiple sections have been taken multiple times be seen as the same as a score earned in a single test administration? And, if more students earn higher scores from being able to retest a single section, do those scores become less meaningful? Associate Director of College Counseling Mrs. Marsha Setzer said, “While changes like this have the goal of increasing individual students’ scores, the downside of that is that it makes it more difficult for colleges to identify different capabilities among applicants. In addition to admissions decisions, many colleges use standardized test scores to grant merit scholarships and with limited financial resources. I would not be surprised to see colleges revisit their scholarship policies.”

Along with this groundbreaking announcement, ACT officials also announced that students will now be given the option to take the ACT online, rather than with paper and pencil, on the same days it is administered nationwide. However, the ACT will only be available online at international test centers and in school districts that administer the test.

Several experts said the ACT’s announcement would put pressure on the College Board to make similar changes to the SAT, which has two sections: math and evidence-based reading and writing. Naomi Deokule (‘21) said, “The fact that next year they’re going to allow only certain sections to be taken is obviously a move that [ACT] is making to increase the popularity of the ACT and make it look more appealing.”

The new policy has incited discussion among parents, students, and educators about the true role of standardized testing in the college admissions process. With some colleges even opting to make their admissions process test-optional, the future of standardized testing remains uncertain. Regardless, these changes are nothing short of drastic, and students and parents will just have to stay tuned.