It was just announced that next year, students taking the American College Test will be able to retest in specific subject areas rather than take the entire test again in order to get a new composite score. The ACT, if you aren’t raising or teaching a high school age child and don’t know, involves four, not two, academic domains: Math, Science, Reading and English, as well as an optional fifth section in Writing. Having just watched my high school senior retake the ACT in order to raise her composite score, I applaud the ACT for offering students the option to retest in one strand vs. the entire test, and for a few reasons – some personal, some professional.
First, the personal. To raise her composite score by one point, my daughter spent about 40 hours of her summer studying to retake a test she had already taken. That came at a financial cost, too – we enrolled her in a discounted online Kaplan course that we felt was somewhat reasonably priced and would help her to stick to a schedule, and we paid to have her take the test a second time. The days and weeks leading up to the retest date were tense because her practice tests indicated she was losing ground with more study. When her second set of scores came out, there was palpable relief. She had raised her composite score by one point. While some of her sub-scores were indeed higher, however, some that had been higher were now lower. Her overall goal was achieved, which was great, but as a learning experience, I’m not sure what she garnered.
Second, the professional. Allowing students to retest in only those areas where they seek to improve is not only good practice, but it is respectful of people’s time, health, and to some degree, finances. I think about the years when I was teaching and testing students regularly, and how much their scores improved when I let them retest or make corrections to the questions they had missed. Not only did their scores improve, as they should have with further study and reflection, but their self-image and confidence improved, too. To me it seemed that the moment they had demonstrated mastery of the material they had previously missed on an assessment, their shoulders eased down from around their ears and their faces relaxed into relieved smiles. But beyond these clear benefits, I like that the ACT is moving with speed to allow students to select a pathway to presumably greater success. I like that the ACT is not waiting for more data, but using the data they just collected from students themselves on the September 14 test about whether they would want to have this option.
Critics worry that this change will only further feed the fire fueling the test prep industry, and that students with financial means will be that much more likely to achieve perfect scores on their standardized testing while those without the means will not be able to demonstrate similar improvements or scores and therefore appear less college-ready than they really are. These are valid concerns and will likely be borne out given the current state of inequality in our education system where students with financial means are unquestionably and consistently advantaged. It will be interesting to see how the ACT, and the College Board for that matter, continue to try to balance their dual role as the architects who design and oversee the project of placing students into rankings, and the umpires who make the calls along the sidelines of this unequal playing field our students are running on.