By Jared Pinder
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The decision by ACT to allow high school students to retake sections of the college admission test next year will boost confidence and save parents money, local teachers, students and parents said.
The testing organization announced earlier this month that college-bound students who passed three of the ACT’s four sections could choose to focus solely on raising the score of one troublesome section without fear of getting lower results on the other three. The policy change is a major development, the first time a partial retake has been offered by the 60-year-old ACT, said spokesman Ed Colby.
“We did a lot of hard research that determined that the way that we were handling the environment before wasn’t cutting it,” Colby told The Baltimore Watchdog. “Our research suggested that scores earned in individual section retakes are comparable to scores earned when students take the entire ACT test again.”
Currently, ACT test takers are not allowed to retake certain sections of the test. If the student wishes to retake the test, he or she must endure the nearly three hours, with multiple-choice questions covering English, math, reading and science. With the policy change scheduled for September 2020, students must take the test once to receive the retake option. The top score is 36.
Costs to take the ACT can vary depending on what the student wants to be tested on. Without an optional essay-writing prompt that takes 40 minutes longer, the fee is $49.50. However, with the writing section, students pay $58.50. Officials estimate 1.9 million U.S. students took the ACT this year.
High school students also take the College Board’s SAT with its maximum score of 1600. Officials point to only a few differences between the SAT and ACT. The SAT has two math sections while the ACT only has one. The questions on the SAT are also more problem-solving based, compared to the ACT. And, the SAT cost $47.50, without the essay portion, but increases to $64.50 with the essay portion.
“We received extensive feedback from students, parents, teachers, counselors and college admission professionals,” said Colby, senior director of Media Relations for ACT. “The feedback we received suggested that single section retakes would be seen as a big benefit and welcomed enthusiastically, particularly by students.”
Emma Michael, a junior at Bel Air High School, agreed, noting she feels more confident in herself knowing that the change will be in place when she takes the test next fall.
“I feel much more relaxed and more confident in myself now that I know about the change,” Michael said. “I feel like this change is going to impact a lot of people and might give the ACT a slight edge over the SAT.”
Selective colleges accept either ACT or SAT, and some students send results from both. But Jim Jump, wrote in an “Inside Higher Ed” article his concern about the changes.
“The cynics among us will wonder whether the changes are designed to help students ‘reach their maximum potential for college and career readiness’ or are instead a salvo in ACT’s battle with the SAT for market share,” said Jump, an academic dean and director of College Counseling at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia.
The benefits are clear, said Susan Mouring, a teacher at Southampton Middle School in Bel Air. She said that the change will have a positive impact on the students.
“Students will be walking into the test feeling a lot more confident about themselves,” Mouring said. “If a student knows that [he or she] can simply retake certain sections of the test that will build their confidence up.”
But Mouring also speculated that the change will affect how the parents will push their students to study for the test.
“Parents will probably not push their children to study as hard because of the change,” said Mouring. “That isn’t a bad thing, though, and it will allow the parents to be more flexible and not push their children so much.”
Melissa McKay, an administrator in the Harford County school system, agreed that the change will not only have a positive impact on the students but will enable parents to spend less on college testing.
“This change will inevitably impact the amount of money the parents usually have to pour into these tests,” McKay said. “Instead of taking the test over and over, the student may only have to take it twice saving the parents some money.”
Colby insisted, “This new option will provide students with greater flexibility and more choices when taking the ACT. We believe it will help provide a better testing experience for students and allow them to better reach their maximum potential.”