The ACT: Homeschool Necessity

Earlier in the semester, I said that “beyond the single oddity of the ACT, the standardized test has been unknown to me, and its absence has not hurt me.” I now realize that this is not necessarily true. The ACT has allowed me to pursue my homeschool education. I now know that I had misunderstood the objective of the standardized test. It is not an educational/teaching tool, nor should it be treated as such. It is a measurement tool. In the case of the ACT, it is a gauge of academic ability.

I have had a change of heart. Without a standardized test like the ACT, my self-reported homeschool GPA would have been laughed out of the college admissions office. Instead, I can take a test that measures my academic learning and categorizes me based on a national standard. In essence, my parents were able to pursue a less traditional and more experimental form of education for myself without being penalized for the lack of credibility associated with it.

Furthermore, not all schools are created equal. Some high schools are more academically rigorous than others which explains why a kid with a 4.0 GPA may get an 18 on his/her ACT whereas another kid with a 3.0 GPA at a different high school may get a 25 on the ACT. A standardized test like the ACT accounts for the difference in pedagogical approaches and the intensity of an institution’s curriculum. From this angle, I now see the ACT as an equalizer among schools and educational philosophies.

However, the Act still has its issues. I still question the accuracy of the ACT. In my own experience, the ACT is an easily coachable test. For a test that is supposed to measure one’s entire academic learning, I was able to boost my initial grade of 18 to 28 within a short period after taking an ACT prep course. Furthermore, socioeconomic status also comes into play regarding access to learning resources, such as a prep class or prep materials. Regardless, I have a new appreciation for the ACT. I now applaud the standardized nature of the ACT and the ability the test provides for individuals to venture outside the conventional realm of education.


Coaching from “ACT Prep” and the ACT

While I do not necessarily view the ACT itself as an accurate representation of the knowledge or abilities of all students, I would consider my personal overall experience with the ACT to be a positive one. I was pleased with my ACT score, and (for the most part) finished the test within the time limits provided. I took the ACT three separate times, and my score was nearly the same all three times, so I do feel that the test does have high reliability, which is similar to a point mentioned in our discussions of the SAT.

However, I believe that an individual’s score can change drastically using the right measures, which brings up a potential criticism of the ACT, much like a major criticism present in our discussions about the SAT—the coachability of the test. When I was in high school, students were offered a course called “ACT Prep.” This was not a course that covered content within the subjects in the ACT (English, reading, math, and science) but rather a course meant to teach the best strategies for taking the ACT. This raises the question, “If the test is coachable, then is it actually testing student ability or knowledge?” In my opinion, the answer is no; achieving ‘success’ on the test largely relies on students’ awareness of the appropriate ACT test-taking strategies, compromising the test’s original purpose.

Therefore, in spite of my own positive experiences with the ACT and in spite of the fact that my ACT scores did benefit me as I entered college, I cannot confidently say that my ACT score was used by my high school and the colleges I applied to in an intelligent way. There is so much pressure for modern students to do well on the ACT, and it continues to carry much weight in the college application process, regardless of the criticisms that its coachability brings into question. Because “ACT Prep” was not a required high school course, not all students learned the strategies covered within it and, as a result, many were likely at a disadvantage when it came down to awareness of ‘the best ways’ in which to take the test.

Ultimately, when added to the fact that some very intelligent students are not strong test takers, especially on such a pressured test as the ACT, disadvantages due to coachability of the test lead me to believe that ACT scores are not an accurate representation of student ability.


The Problem with the ACT + Standardized Testing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As I stated in my introductory blog post, I am almost certain my financial life was determined by how many of the final ten questions on each ACT subtest were letter choice C.  This should not be how this process is done. Although I benefited from it, I do not think one’s financial aid in college should be determined by random choices on a multiple-choice test. A person is much more than their score on a standardized test.

Through the 1950s, executives in the Education Testing Service (ETS) strongly believed that no one could practice for the SAT. They felt the test was strictly a measure of a student’s aptitude. Around the same time, Stanley Kaplan graduated from a public college in New York near the top of his class, but he was denied entry to five medical schools because they did not consider his public education as legitimate. Soon, Kaplan quietly began a tutoring service to help students with the SAT. Kaplan actually supported the SAT, feeling it helped underprivileged students like himself gain access to better colleges and careers. Nevertheless, he unknowingly defied the idea that one could not prepare for the SAT when his students scored signficantly better on the SAT after taking his preparatory course. Today, the same thing happens with the ACT, although it is an achievement test. High schools around the United States offer ACT Prep classes that teach students how to take the test. In my opinion, students should not lose instructional time in other areas to learn the tricks of an exam, and the ACT should not be considered with such importance. Students’ future success, again, should only be determined by their true academic ability, which is much more accurately measured by grade point average and success in advanced level classes.

Nevertheless, I am not completely against standardized testing as a whole. In their place, I do think tests are a good way to measure student learning, but they should not bear such incredible weight. If the pressure created by the circumstances surrounding standardized tests was reduced, then I think they would be viewed more positively by people.

I have not personally experienced standardized testing during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one of my friends was not able to take the ACT she needed to pass in order to gain entry into the College of Education. As a result, she is currently being forced to take another entrance exam. Not offering any alternatives for students to take the ACT during the pandemic does appear to be an issue. Perhaps ACT should consider offering the exam online with a service like ProctorU. From my own personal experience, this has worked well for PRAXIS exams.