ACT Changes

Fanning the Frenzy over Test Scores


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ACT. In September of 2020, the ACT will now allow students to retake a single section, have the option to take it online, and the option to report a superscore. With these new changes, many are concerned about its impact on the already competitive college admissions process.

 The ACT testing company announced upcoming changes to the testing policy in late 2019. Though these changes will not go into effect until September of 2020, they come at a crucial time in the debate over the significance of standardized testing. As many colleges opt for a test-optional policy, the frenzy over higher test scores has not gone away and experts fear these changes will only fan it further. 

   The new testing system consists of three changes: (check out this infographic from the ACT for more details) 

  1. Students can now retake a single section (English, Math, Reading, or Science) of the test at a time rather than retaking the entire test to improve scores.
  2. Students will now have the option to take the test online— resulting in faster score reports.
  3. The ACT will now report a super score— a score that combines all of your best scores on each section into a single superscore.

   But, these changes do not come without some concern. Many fear that the changes will only contribute to the frenzy to improve test scores among high schoolers in an already competitive admissions process. However, testing officials claim the changes are for the better. 

   One of the larger issues with the changes is an economic disparity in scores. It’s a well-known fact that ACT tutoring, books, and most importantly, test retakes, are no cheap task. That is why many students and families are concerned that those who can pay to retake tests often report better scores than those who do not have the funds to do the same. Changes in family income are a consistent factor in scores and those with higher family incomes score an average of 4 points higher on the test according to the ACT organization itself. 

   Though this is already a problem, some fear that allowing for section by section retakes will only make matters worse. Allowing those with the necessary income to retake the test even more and, as a result, have even higher scores. But ACT spokespeople do not share the same view. Ed Colby, an ACT spokesman, told The New York Times “We’re trying to save them time. We’re trying to save them money.” According to the ACT organization, offering retakes on single tests will drive down the price of retakes, making a retake and score improvement more accessible to a wider range of students. Stacie Vollman, the Testing Coordinator at SHS agrees, stating that “I could also see it saving students money due to only taking one subject rather than the whole test and making it available online would help with receiving scores back faster and making it more efficient.” 

  So the exact contribution of the new ACT to the income equality gap in standardized tests is not exactly clear but with these two points of view, it is up to you to decide!

   Not only have the new tests raised alarm bells on income inequality, but they have also left students worried about how their ACT scores will be viewed by colleges. Will my new scores mean the same? Will it matter if I retake it? Will they even look at my super score? Do I wait to take the test until September?

   Many of these questions “probably cannot be answered until years down the line” said Vollman. 

   One of the biggest concerns over the new policy is the uncertainty it brings. Though the ACT organization ensures they cross-check their policies with many colleges, there is no way to know how the scores will be received by the admissions process. Along with concern over admission, Dr. Ashley Warren, ACT Coordinator at SHS, explained that “ scholarship opportunities may change at the collegiate level” as well.

   For some students, that uncertainty means deciding whether to retake the ACT before or after September 2020, when the new policy is put in place. That decision mainly comes down to personal preference. If you prefer to take standardized tests online and get scores faster, maybe take it after September. If you will be applying to college next September, taking the test earlier to be able to report scores will take precedence. If you think you might get more retakes for your limited funds, take it after September. 

   Regardless of the uncertainty, Dr. Warren reiterated that “One thing we do know is that Ms. Vollman, myself, and our district will always make the best decision once having all the information to set our students up to be successful for this new opportunity.”

   As you can tell, these choices will come down to what works best for you and that could look different for every student. While the new ACT policies might work better for your friend, the traditional route might reap better results for you. Nonetheless, having looked at the pros and cons of both the new and old ACT systems, these decisions will be up to you and there are always counselors and peers to help.