Wednesday, October 9, 2019

ACT Announces Testing Changes. What They Mean to Counselors

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

The world of college admission is typically busy enough in the fall, but this year is bringing major changes to the way counselors work with students, and they show no sign of slowing up. After last week’s changes to the way NACAC regulates ED and recruiting after May 1, it’s ACT’s turn to throw us a few wrinkles. Spoiler alert: If your building administers the ACT, sit down now.

Students can re-take individual sections of the ACT. A number of students end up taking the entire ACT more than once for one reason only—to improve one subscore that’s dragging down their overall score. Now, as long as the student has taken the entire ACT once, they will be able to sign up for re-takes of individual sections of the test. If your Science subtest went badly, there’s no longer a need to give up your whole Saturday and put in four hours to improve it. This new option allows you to sign up just for that section, take it, and get on with your life.

Once this is in place, students will be able to take 3 subsections this way per sitting, and they can retake them as often as they wish. Most important, this option is only available online. Students hoping to take just one subtest by the pencil-and-paper mode are out of luck.

Online versions of the entire ACT. At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Well, it you can take single subsections online, why can’t you take the whole test online?” Your wish is granted! ACT is rolling out an online version of the entire test for national testing days. Once it’s fully functional, students going the online route will be able to get their test results in two days, not the three week minimum most are dealing with now.

ACT Superscores for you. Many students are familiar with the concept of superscoring, where a college takes the best subscores from all the ACTs you’ve taken, and creates the highest composite score you’ve earned based on those subscores. Trouble is, in order to that now, the student has to send multiple scores to the college (that costs money) and the college has to compute the superscore by hand (costing time and money).

As of next year, that’s out. ACT will compute a superscore for all students who take the test more than once (or retake only parts of the ACT). It’s not clear if ACT will charge students to send this score, or if students have to order it, but this is a real break from recent ACT’s once long-standing belief that superscoring was a bad idea.

Why the changes? It’s hard to say. Some insist this is ACT simply trying to keep up with reality, where students take the whole test twice just to improve one score. Others say these are all customer service initiatives, with ACT trying to recapture its reputation for being the more “user friendly” of the two testing agencies.

What does it mean for counselors? It’s a little early to tell, but think about these implications:

Testing proctors will have their hands full finding more proctors to test rooms with online, paper-and-pencil, full, and partial test takers. Combined with needing separate rooms for students with extended time and other accommodations, and it may take an entire high school faculty to make sure tests are administered properly.

Policies where student test scores are placed on transcripts really need to be reviewed. Many school attorneys have argued this is a lawsuit waiting to happen, since the high school doesn’t own the test scores (“I only told you to send my August test, and you send the bad July one as well!”) If ACT is going to provide the superscore to colleges for free, it’s time to put this policy in the rear view mirror.

Strategies for test taking will now take a different turn, likely for the worse. For example, students who see themselves as “bad at science” may decide to deliberately underperform on the Science portion of the test the first time they take it, planning on re-taking the Science section once they have time to prep exclusively on that section of the test. But then the student gets busy, or forgets, or takes the test but doesn’t report it, and they’re in worse trouble than ever.

New options are generally created to improve life, but there’s no telling what kind of gamesmanship thinking can do to do exactly the opposite. Make sure your students’ thinking about these options is healthy. That could be the biggest challenge of all.

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