Remember when ACT, Inc. was perceived as the “smart” testmaker? The ACT started out serving students in the Midwest and certain other American enclaves, but gained even greater prominence in 2005. Back when the College Board released what turned out to be a disastrous SAT revision, all eyes turned to the shrewdly managed test out of Iowa City. Just as that earlier change to the SAT allowed the ACT to overtake its rival as the world’s most popular college admissions test, this most recent SAT revision was supposed to solidify ACT hegemony for the foreseeable future.
Too bad ACT keeps screwing up.
Gaffe after gaffe signals that the ACT no longer sets the standard for careful stewardship of a public trust. Many of the ACT’s errors have revolved around the Writing Test, the optional essay that actually helped the test gain popularity. The last year, however, has seen ACT stumble again and again in spectacular fashion as far as the essay is concerned:
ACT announced the new Enhanced ACT Writing Test. The essay remained an exercise in persuasive writing, but the assignment and scoring methodology changed. Most notably, the essay abandoned the 2-12 scale shared with the SAT Essay in favor of a 1-36 scale that mirrors the other sections of the test. But ACT was unwise to release a major revision in September, since many college applicants would submit both the old and new Writing scores.
The September release of the Enhanced ACT Writing Test was a disaster. Not only were student scores delayed by many weeks–highly problematic for Early Admission and Action applicants–but when the Writing scores came back, they were much lower than projected. In some cases, students earned near-perfect English scores with only average Writing scores. What was the problem? Inexplicably, the 1-36 scale didn’t mean the same thing for the Writing Test as it does for the other sections. Very weird and very unfortunate, considering the public outcry over the confusion this persistent scoring error causes.
ACT, Inc responds to the many problems caused by the Enhanced ACT Writing Prompt and its new scoring paradigm, but does so in the most impotent way possible:
Beginning this fall with the September national test date, ACT will no longer report ACT writing test scores on a 1-to-36 scale. To reduce confusion among users, the writing score will instead be reported on a range of 2-to-12, with 12 being the highest possible score.
To clarify, ACT will continue to administer the now not-so-new Writing Test and still score the essay on four domains. The only difference will be that the new reported score will be the average of the four 2-to-12 domain scores, rather than a 1-36 scale conversion. This superficial change fails to address the two major problems the ACT Writing Test presents:
1. Nothing in the ACT press release suggests that the company understands what the scoring issue really was. The 1-36 scale was never the problem. In fact, applying the same scale to every section makes perfect sense. But ACT failed to apply the same approximate percentile scheme every other test section follows to the Writing scores. The “perceptual problem” the organization alludes to was really a structural flaw based on insufficient research and reasoning.
2. Such a superficial change will do little to reassure colleges that the ACT Writing Test has value. More and more schools are abandoning the essay as an admissions requirement. Don’t expect this announcement to reverse that tide.
In summary, who cares whether the ACT Writing section is scored 2-12 or 1-36? If ACT continues to fumble the ball, neither colleges nor students will care much about the ACT Writing section at all.