(Sort of) Valid Standardized Tests

The ACT is a good predictor of college success. Well, part of it is, at any rate. The American College Testing (ACT) examination is the competitor to the SAT examination and, like the SAT, is basically an intelligence test originally sold as a predictor of college grades. It turns out parts of the ACT predict college success quite well, but other parts are essentially irrelevant.

According to an article by Laurent Belsie in the Christian Science Monitor:

The trick: Pay attention to the math and English scores and disregard the science and reading sections. By obscuring the predictive validity of the ACT’s math and English scores, “the Reading and Science tests cause students to be inefficiently matched to schools – admitted to schools that may be too demanding – or too easy – for their levels of ability,” write authors Eric Bettinger and Brent Evans at Stanford University and Devin Pope at the University of Chicago.

For example: If student A gets scores of 26 on reading and science and 22 for math and English, their composite ACT score would be 24, the same as student B who got scores of 22 on reading and science and 26 on math and English. But student A is 59 percent more likely to drop out in the first year of college – and 43 percent more likely in the third year – than student B is.

It’s not really clear how the researchers determined the ACT’s success to such a level of exactitude, but such information is potentially interesting. The researchers predict that using only the ACT math and English scores to determine admission colleges could reduce their student dropout rates by 7 percent.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

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