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ACT to Feature New Indicators for Career Readiness, Understanding Complex Texts

Starting in the spring of 2015, high school students who take the ACT will receive more information on their performance, including indicators of their career readiness and ability to understand complex texts, officials from the testing company announced June 6.

ACT Inc., which administers the nation's most popular college-entrance test, also plans to debut a revised writing test that will provide students with four sub-scores (ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use) on the optional essay.

"We are trying to provide more meaningful insights to students to help inform instruction," said Paul Weeks, ACT's vice president of customer engagement.

A new "progress toward career-readiness indicator" will show students where they need to improve on specific skills sought by employers. In an email, ACT spokesman Ed Colby explained that this will be linked to ACT's National Career Readiness Certificate, which is based on scores on the company's WorkKeys tests (a job skills assessment system). He said the skills ACT will look at are "foundational skills that are shared by nearly every type of job out there to some level or another, specifically applied math, locating information, and reading for information skills." The indicator is being developed based on score results of students who have taken both the ACT and the WorkKeys tests.

A "text complexity progress indicator" will aim to capture a student's skill in comprehending passages on the ACT reading test, which measures reading comprehension. Colby said that "a key predictor of college and career success is how well an individual can read a very complex piece of writing."

New STEM Score

ACT also will provide students with a STEM score by combining their scores in math and science. For students who take the optional writing test, they will be get an English/language arts score by adding up the achievement in English, reading, and writing. (Last year, 52 percent of students who took the ACT opted to sit for the writing portion of the exam.)

This new feedback will be reported in addition to the traditional ACT scores and college-readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading, and science.

Changes are also coming to the writing test. Currently, students are given a fairly simple prompt, such as "Should students be required to wear school uniforms?" and asked to take a position on that issue, generally pro or con, and to support it in their essay. ACT is revising the writing test to focus on topics that are more complex, and on larger questions of values and core life experiences, according to Colby. Instead of asking students to take one position, the prompt will ask them to provide multiple perspectives on that topic.

News of the ACT revisions comes three months after the College Board unveiled plans for a revamped SAT to debut in the spring of 2016. However, ACT officials were quick to say the changes they announced are "not radical."

The scoring range for the ACT (1-36), the content, and the college-readiness benchmarks will not change, said Weeks. "It's nothing dramatic in what a student will experience," he said..

ACT will offer a computer-based version of the test, in addition to the paper-and-pencil ACT, starting in 2015. The company has been piloting the digital test this spring in selected markets.

Nearly 1.8 million students took the ACT college-entrance exam last year, representing 54 percent of the class of 2013, and surpassing participation in the College Board's SAT, which had 1.7 million test takers.

ACT Inc. also just announced that four additional states—Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wisconsin—will be offering the test to all high school juniors, bringing the total number of states contracted to provide statewide ACT testing to 17.

The SAT is currently offered statewide only in Delaware, Idaho, and Maine.

Constructed-Response Items

Weeks said that state officials like that the ACT is curriculum-based and the school-wide testing helps identify some students who have college potential, but may not have considered that pathway before taking the test.

College Board officials have said that the SAT changes make it more of a curriculum-based test that reflects what students are learning in high school. ACT officials acknowledged that may change the landscape. "It will be more competitive—and that's a good thing," said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education and career services, of the statewide school testing market.

In 2015, states that give the ACT to all students during school will have the option of including constructed-response questions. State officials have been asking for this addition so they can better use the test for accountability purposes, ACT officials said.

The changes to the ACT will also better align it with the company's new ACT Aspire assessment, which rolled out this year in grades 3-11. Alabama is the only state that has adopted the assessment statewide, but Weeks said school districts in 33 other states have contracted to use Aspire as well.

In 2016, ACT plans to add new reporting categories to align with the Common Core State Standards, officials with the Iowa City, Iowa-based company said.

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