December 6, 2019

ACT to let students retake individual parts of test in 2020

Starting in the fall of 2020, students will be able to retake individual sections of the ACT college entrance test to improve their scores before sending them off to universities.

The test is a standard application requirement for many colleges and universities in the United States. It has four mandatory sections on the exam; reading, mathematics, science and English. A fifth section on writing is optional.

Each section is measured with scores ranging from 10 to 36. When students have seen their scores in the past, they could sign up to retake the entire exam if they were not satisfied with their scores.  But starting in 2020, they will be able to re-take one or more of the individual sections, without having to retake the entire test.

ACT, originally known as American College Testing, was founded in 1959. The test is developed and administered by ACT Inc., a non-profit corporation. According to the organization, more than 1.9 million students took the test in 2018.

Mary Michael Pontzer, vice president of ACT, told USA Today in an October interview that this change is not to compete with the SAT, another testing system also accepted by many universities. It is instead meant to save time and avoid having students do unnecessary testing.  

Dates on which Talawanda High School will administer the ACT test in 2020. Image prepared by Josiah Collins

The SAT, founded in 1926 as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, uses a different testing configuration and scoring system, with two sections and an essay. About 2.2 million students took the SAT test last year, according to the organization’s website. Many universities, including Miami University, accept scores from either test on student applications and many high school students take both tests.

While the tests are meant to be equalizers, giving all students a fair chance to show off their academic levels, some critics say the tests give an unfair advantage to students from higher socio-economic backgrounds. Over time scores have been rising and with the option to retake only sections where a student did poorly, one could see the inflation of scores across the board, which rendered high scores almost useless in comparing applicants, according to some testing experts.

Akil Bellow, founder and former CEO of Bell Curves Test Prep, said he believes these changes could lead to colleges continuing their trend of allowing students to not submit a score at all. Bello told USA Today in the same October story that the system is messy and doesn’t see how these changes will fix those issues.

These changes could see a carry-over effect in the Talawanda School District, as all juniors are required to take the ACT in the spring semester. But Scott Davie, a counselor at Talawanda High School, said he sees the benefit in students being able to retake the exam.

“There is no indication that retakes ever hurt a student. Nearly every college or university reports that they always give the students the benefit of the doubt when looking at multiple scores,” Davie said.

“Certainly, retaking one or more sections is encouraged as more and more schools superscore the ACT (counting only the highest scores when the test is taken multiple times). We anticipate that this change will cause more schools to super-score as many still do not with the ACT,” Davie said.

Super-scoring had become common with the SAT, but had not usually been done with the ACT, because fewer students took the test more than once.  The cost to retake part of the ACT has not yet been revealed, but the entire test costs $52 and $68 if you opt for the writing section, so the possible fee could be about $13 per section for the standard and $17 if you include the writing section.

To address the concern of cost for the exam, juniors at Talawanda all take the exam with no cost to them and for those with economic needs in the case of a retake, ACT fee waivers are available, Davie said. He said he anticipates that those waivers will be available in 2020 for section retakes as well.

If students perform well enough the first time they take the test, retakes obviously are avoided. To help students perform their best, Talawanda employs multiple strategies to prepare students for the college entrance exams. All classes at the high school are college preparatory.

Specifically, the English department has designed classes to emphasize skills assessed in the English and Reading sections of the tests. By the time juniors are taking their exams they have taken Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II, which are what’s measured on the test. For the sciences, the test covers physics, chemistry, biology, and ecology, which are covered in the ninth and 10th grade curriculum.

In addition to having material covered in class, Talawanda also gives students access to a free ACT prep course through Ohio Means Jobs, a free counseling service of the state government. Talawanda also shares information regarding other prep courses that give financial assistance to those who need it.

As an approved testing site, Talawanda administers the exam seven times throughout the year on dates determined by the ACT.