ACT sparks controversy: In Fall 2020 will allow students to retake individual sections


Vivien Sweet , Staff Writer

As the college admissions process becomes increasingly competitive every year, the ACT has offered solace to current underclassmen and future generations of students who struggle with standardized testing required for entry to most elite colleges. Last Tuesday, ACT officials announced that starting in September 2020, once students have taken one full ACT test, they will be allowed to retake individual sections of the ACT without repeating the entire exam.

The ACT, which lasts for almost three hours and consists of multiple-choice questions covering four sections (English, math, reading, and science) and an optional 40-minute essay, has become a popular alternative to the SAT in the past decade. Each section is scored out of 36 points, and the section scores are averaged for a holistic score. Around 1.9 million U.S. seniors in the Class of 2018 took the ACT, while 2.1 million took the SAT, according to an article from the New York Times.

Suzana Delanghe, an ACT chief commercial officer, said in an article from the Washington Post that according to the ACT’s research, students’ scores when they take individual sections are consistent with those received when they take the entire test at once.

“We are simply offering new ways to take the ACT, saving students time and giving them the ability to focus only on subject areas needing improvement,” Delanghe said.

Although the new retaking policy should ideally benefit all ACT test takers, Lowell Finister (11) said that he is concerned that the policy will disadvantage students with fewer resources to prepare for and retake the test.

“The whole point [of the ACT] is to see how you do under this time pressure,” Finister said. “If you take the test once, you can effectively do poorly on all of the sections, but if you have the time and money to spend on retaking all of these individual sections, you can engineer a 36.”
The ACT has not yet released the price of retaking individual sections, but currently, including the optional essay, the ACT costs $68 to take.

Finister also believes that the new policy diminishes the overall value of the ACT and standardized testing, which—prior to the introduction of the policy—acted as a “blank slate” upon which colleges could judge students, he said. But now, students can throw more tutoring and money into retaking a particular section to essentially cater the test to their own needs—only if they are wealthy enough, he said.

However, Alexa Watson (12) believes that the ACT’s new policy does not amplify the pre-existing advantage that wealthier students who can afford to retake standardized tests multiple times have. “Theoretically, if you can afford to retake the entire test, you most likely can afford to retake one section, so it’s the same overall issue,” she said.

Watson, who took the ACT twice, thinks it is absurd that a student should have to retake all four sections if he or she is struggling with just one, she said. Since many colleges have gotten rid of some standardized test requirements, such as the SAT subject tests (multiple choice assessments that test one’s knowledge on a specific subject), Watson believes that the ACT retake policy should have been implemented sooner.

For underclassmen such as Ethan Waggoner (10), the policy raises both pros and cons for his ACT testing experience. On the one hand, his own holistic score would most likely increase, but on the other hand, “the average [ACT] score will definitely raise, especially at this school, where I assume that even if people get close to perfect scores they’ll still retake it to get that perfect score,” Waggoner said.

Although Kareena Gupta (11) has already taken the ACT, she believes that the ACT retake policy will disadvantage those taking the SAT, which does not allow partial retakes yet is a similarly-structured test. Because of the new policy, when most students are choosing which test they are going to take, their diagnostic scores from the practice SAT and ACT that the school offers in June might not be the only factor in their decision, she said.Since the standardized testing process is already so stressful, the new ACT policy will alleviate the concerns of students who messed up on just one section, Gupta said.

Last spring, the SAT announced the implementation of an “adversity score,” which issues test takers a score ranging from one to 100 that accounts for a test taker’s socioeconomic status, neighborhood, family stability, and other external factors, in addition to the regular SAT score, according to the New York Times. Since both of the changes to the ACT and SAT occurred in the same year, New York Times writer Anemona Hartocollis thinks that the ACT’s new policy could have been in retaliation to the SAT’s attempt to attract less socially and financially stable students, whose scores are put into context with their background with the adversity score, she wrote in an article.

Muhaiminul Ashraf ‘19 was “all for” the SAT adversity score, since it put into context how much harder it is for students from lower income neighborhoods with fewer test prep resources to do well on standardized tests, he said.

Ashraf, who took the ACT twice, has always believed that money is directly correlated to success in standardized testing, much to the detriment of less wealthy students, he said. “[The retake policy] just introduces another payroll into the ACT testing system,” he said. “The kids who are at a financial disadvantage will always be at a financial disadvantage, and now they’ll be at an academic disadvantage as well.”

Yet English Department Chair and SAT test center supervisor Vernon Wilson has some reservations about the advisersity score, which he believes “tags” certain groups of students, (perhaps) unintentionally categorizing their identities into generalizations. “[The adversity score] somehow signals, ‘Hey, this test taker comes from this kind of school, this kind of background, et cetera.’ I think [the score] could just be misconstrued so easily.”

Even though the SAT adversity score more overtly addresses inequities students may face because of their social class, both the ACT retake policy and the adversity score were both created to attract more test-takers, Abigail Morse (11) said. Although Morse was planning on taking the SAT, the new ACT policy is making her rethink that decision, she said.

Similarly, Wilson thinks that the creation of the ACT retake policy is an attempt to reinforce the ACT’s role as the “torch bearer” for standardized testing as opposed to the SAT, he said. According to Wilson, the ACT has only risen in popularity relatively recently.

“When I was in high school in the nineties, the ACT was very regional; it was really in the south and the midwest where a lot of kids took the ACT instead of the SAT,” Wilson said.

However, Head of the Library Department Caroline Bartels believes that the policy exposes a fault in the current teenagers generation’s mindset, citing a recent drive to achieve perfection in every aspect of education, including standardized tests. “There’s something wrong that we [did] to make you guys think that everything has a do-over,” Bartels said. “The fact that the College Board is feeding right into that by even making retakes possible is gross.”

Wilson, too, said he feels a shift in attitudes regarding standardized testing with the ACT retake policy. “It’s much more tailored to a mindset that I think is prevalent in our culture of kind of having it your way; [the policy] makes it seem like the test is tailored to your strengths and needs,” he said.

Regardless, since most colleges are starting to move away from standardized testing entirely, Gupta believes that the policy won’t have a significant effect on the college admissions process in the future.

Even if the ACT policy had been in place during Ashraf’s junior year, he would not have chosen to retake specific sections in an attempt to boost his score, he said. “What’s done is done.”