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What the ACT CEO says is changing (and not!) on the ACT test

Over the weekend, I attended the National Test Prep Association’s annual conference in Atlanta where ACT’s CEO, Janet Godwin, gave the keynote address.

In the wake of SAT’s big announcement in early 2022, I was making bets on what big changes ACT would announce perhaps first at the conference. I’ve been in the test prep and academic tutoring business since 1999 an in the two plus decades I’ve watched what’s felt like a game of chess between the two organizations. With each move is additional work for the test prep industry and anxiety for students on how to navigate change.

As I settled into my seat with notebook poised for furious notetaking, I was pleasantly surprised.

What’s Changing on the ACT Test

  • VQI Reading Questions: Although they were previously announced, they’ve yet to appear on a test. However, we were assured they are still coming and likely to rollout on statewide testing first.
  • Adaptive Online Testing Exploration: While SAT completely pivots to an adaptive online test in March 2024 for domestic testers, ACT is simply studying it. Which leads to what’s not changing…

What’s Staying the Same on the ACT Test

  • Paper Testing: It’s not going anywhere even if in the future the ACT introduces online adaptive testing. Why? Simply put, Godwin and ACT knows that while some students may excel on online tests, many thrive with pencil to paper testing. Janet Godwin’s goal is to reduce the stress of students and give options. If an online adaptive test is offered in the future, it would be concorded to the paper test and it would be the student’s choice which to take.
  • The Science Section: While many, including me, have wagered that this section would be eliminated, the NTPA was informed it’s here to stay because the scientific inquiry skills that are assessed are important for students.
  • The Writing Section: NTPA conference attendee Compass keeps a blog up to date on the number of colleges requiring the writing test. By now it’s a short list, but Janet shared the writing test is utilized in statewide testing, so ACT remains committed to keeping it, even though SAT dropped the essay in 2021.
  • Alignment to State Curriculum Standards: ACT continues to study learning outcomes dictated at the state level and be sure their test is assessing what is being taught in schools. Godwin cited curriculum standards are largely consistent which is why the ACT has remained consistent through two total overhauls of the SAT in a single decade.
  • A Commitment to Questions Without Bias: At ACT the panel of question writers remains a diverse pool of individuals and their questions are statistically analyzed for bias. When bias is found, those questions are eliminated.

After the first day of the conference, I had the good fortune to sit next to Janet Godwin for two hours during dinner. The leader I met exceeded my expectations. I found her to be as student centered as each member of the NTPA and the school educators the LEAP team works in conjunction with each day.

When pressed on test optional, she said she thinks it’s good for students to have the option. It helps reduce anxiety when heading into a test because they know they have options.

What can be confusing is the policies of the colleges on how much scores actually matter. The reality is strong ACT and SAT scores open doors to access and scholarships. 

We both agreed increased transparency and clear statements by the colleges on how testing is used could greatly reduce anxious students and help them make informed decisions. 

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