The ACT Option

Apparently minority students compelled to take the ACT (the standardized test for college admissions that rivals the more popular SAT) see performance improvements over time. According to an article by Peter Galuszka in Diverse Issues in Higher Education:

Academics are trying to assess how using the ACT test affects students and schools. Data is incomplete, but trends include improved performance by African-American or Hispanic students who generally score lower than Whites or Asian-Americans. Some believe that more students tend to go to college after taking the ACT, but the program’s critics claim that teachers end up teaching the ACT test and not real content.

Of course, that’s actually kind of the point. The ACT is curriculum-based; students are tested directly on the knowledge they were supposed to have accumulated in high school. The SAT tests more ambiguous things like reasoning and problem-solving.
This trend—minority students improving performance over time—does not seem to be evident in the SATs.

It may be an apples to oranges comparison however. The SAT is a college admission test. Part of the success of the ACT has to do with the way that the test is marketed as both a college admissions test and an assessment of high school skills. So students take it multiple times. The ACT maintains, according to the article, that its test “helps school systems identify weaknesses, which allows them to adjust their curriculum or teaching skills.”

Duly noted, but if students routinely take (and are compelled to take) the same test multiple times of course their scores will go up. That doesn’t really indicate incredible success in minority achievement.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer