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We are committed to providing you with the most up-to-date resources and announcements from the college admissions testing landscape. Here are some of the top headlines from this past month:
ACT in Asia Canceled Due to Cheating
Summary: The ACT cancelled its September administration of the exam in multiple countries throughout Asia, just a few days before test day. Students received alerts by email, and the ACT is working to help students find another test day this year to attend. The exam was canceled when the ACT learned that the exam may have been leaked ahead of time.
What This Means: This was the largest ACT cancellation in the exam’s history and not likely to be the last. As our coverage of last year’s investigation into ACT and SAT reuse of exams abroad shows, students are getting better at sharing and finding exam copies online. If the SAT and ACT don’t stop reusing exams (and we know that the SAT did in fact reuse a US-administered exam abroad this spring), this kind of cheating isn’t going to stop.
Security Breach Forces ACT Test Cancellation in Asia (Washington Post)
ACT Releases Annual Data
Summary: Every year the ACT releases a nationwide study of student performance on the exam. On Thursday, the report for the class of 2017, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2017, came out and showed the following key trends:
- Fewer students took the ACT: 2.03 million (60% of Class of 2017) vs. 2.09 million (64% of Class of 2016). “The numbers mark the first decline in 13 years and the biggest drop in ACT test-taking since 1990. The decline happened largely because Illinois and Michigan, two big states that require students to take a statewide college-entrance test, switched from the ACT to the SAT. The smaller size of the 2017 ACT testing pool probably accounted for the slight increase in performance.”
- Average composite score rose: 21.0 (Class of 2017) vs. 20.8 (Class of 2016)
- Average section scores: 20.3 (English), 20.7 (Math), 21.4 (Reading), 21.0 (Science) “Since 2013, the percentage of ACT-tested graduates who met or surpassed the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks has increased in Reading, stayed relatively steady in Science, and declined in both English and Mathematics.”
- Trends based on race/ethnicity: “Hispanic and African American students continue to lag behind their white and Asian American counterparts in terms of academic achievement and college readiness.”
- Females score higher, especially in ELA sections: More females (1.05 million) took the ACT than males (0.94 million). Females also score higher composite scores on average (21.1 vs. 21.0), scored higher on average in English (0.9 points higher than males), Reading (0.6 points), and Writing (0.5 points), but lower in Math (0.8 points) and Science (0.5 points).
- State winners and losers: New Hampshire has the highest average ACT score (25.5) and Nevada the lowest (17.8). Note, however, there is some skewing of the data here. Every student in Nevada is required to take the exam, while only 18% of students in New Hampshire—likely only the highest scorers—do.
- Effect of extended time accommodations: 5% of students took the exam with extended time due to a learning disability/difference. The biggest difference in section scores between students with standard time and extended time occurred in English (3-point different) while the smallest difference was in Reading (2-point difference).
The report took a specific look for the first time at “underserved learners.” According to the report, “Underserved students, who represent nearly half (46 percent) of ACT-tested 2017 U.S. high school graduates, are defined as students who would be the first generation in their family to attend college, come from low-income families and/or self-identify their race/ethnicity as minority. Only 9 percent of ACT-tested graduates who possessed all three underserved characteristics showed strong readiness for college coursework….Even among students who met only one of the underserved criteria, just 26 percent showed strong readiness. In comparison, the majority (54 percent) of graduates who were not underserved showed strong readiness for college.” This difference was especially strong in the Math and Science sections. Another surprising finding was that 28% of all students offered a fee waiver (are allowed to take the test for free due to reduced income) don’t end up taking the test.
What This Means:
- Inequality continues to be a major issue that plagues standardized testing and the education system at large. Both in terms of access to quality courses and test prep as well as access to the exam itself, students of different races and economic backgrounds face dramatically different situations. And there does not seem to be much in this data indicating a turn-around is coming.
- The biggest change this year is in the drop in ACT test takers. When the College Board releases the 2017 SAT data soon, we are likely to see that for the first time since 2012 the SAT was the more popular exam. This is a dramatic change of fortune for the SAT, which started going hard after state contracts starting with the transition to the redesigned SAT.
- An interesting tidbit, which may only really strike test-prep nerds, is the data on extended time. Most students report feeling that extra time in Reading makes the biggest difference in how comfortable they feel on the exam and that English is the least impactful place to get extra time. And the data bears this out. Extended-time students have scores closer to their standard-time peers on Reading. Noteworthy, however, is that across every section, standard-time students on average scores higher than extended-time students.
Students’ Scores Inch Up on ACT Exam (Ed Week)
Illinois ACT Scores Improve as Number of Test Takers Drops (Chicago Tribune)
ACT Scores Are Up (Inside Higher Ed)
College Board Announces New Pre-AP Courses
Summary: Last week, the College Board rolled out its new Pre-AP program, a series of courses for students in the 9th grade to prepare for participation in the traditional AP program later in high school. The program will begin next school year (fall 2018) with just five courses (Algebra 1, Biology, English Language Arts, World History and Geography, and Visual and Performing Arts). Schools may offer any or all of the courses. These courses will have set curriculum and materials that can be added on to any school’s current curriculum. There will be NO large end-of-year exam administered by the CB, so it will be much lower pressure than the traditional AP program. Instead, the CB provides access to 8 online quizzes/assessments for each course so that teachers may assess student learning throughout the year. Teachers will also have access to “performance tasks” provided by the CB but scored by the teacher. These “performance tasks” will help students prepare for free-response questions on AP Exams and likely be similar to essays and materials seen on the AP. The key requirement is that any school offering a Pre-AP program CANNOT impose any barriers to enrollment in Pre-AP classes. Any student who wants to take the course must be allowed to, unlike the current AP program which schools often restrict to students with specific grades or teacher recommendations. In the future, the CB plans to create more Pre-AP courses (subjects TBD) and expand to other grades (but no indication if those grades will be older or younger than 9th grade). If your school already offers a course it has self-named a “Pre-AP” course, your school will need to drop this name by 2022 unless the school agrees to abide by College Board’s new requirements and materials for a Pre-AP course.
What This Means:
- No judgments yet on the quality of this program or what the experience will be like for students. But it’s promising that this program has equal-access provisions built in. CB does seem to be making a valiant effort at staying true to its recent claims of supporting equality.
- It’s not clear yet how widespread this program will be. It’s up to individual schools to join the program. The CB has just started looking for schools join, aiming for 100 pilot schools nationwide in 2018. Interestingly, any school that wants to take part in the Pre-AP program in the first year it’s offered must also agree to administer the PSAT 8/9 twice a year. A cynical observer might argue that this “condition” is a ploy by the CB to expand its SAT reach. But it might also be a way to gain important statistical data on the correlation between student academic readiness and performance in the new Pre-AP program.
- A look at the basic information released about the individual courses shows that some of them may also prepare students for the SAT. The Pre-AP ELA course explicitly says the “performance tasks” align with the new SAT Essay. The Pre-AP Algebra course provides students with experience applying mathematical models to real-world scenarios and strives to teach a deep understanding of linear equations and functions, both of which show up in multiple ways on the new SAT Math sections.
Pre-AP Overview (College Board)