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ACT Exam Will Include New Writing Scores and Readiness Indicators

The big tests keep evolving. Three months after the College Board unveiled plans for revising the SAT, its rival—ACT Inc.—announced on Friday coming changes in its own examination, now the nation’s most widely used college-entrance test.

Starting next year, students who take the ACT will receive more information about their readiness for college and careers, ACT officials said. The test results will include a “STEM Score,” representing a student’s performance on the mathematics and science portions of the exam, and an “English Language Arts Score,” which will combine the student’s performance on the English, reading, and writing sections.

The exam also will include two new indicators. One will show whether a student is likely to understand the kinds of complex texts he or she will take in college.

The other will assess a test taker’s career readiness, revealing his or her mastery of skills—such as applied math and reading-for-information—that employers value, ACT officials said. The measure will be based on the scores of students who have taken both the ACT and ACT Inc.’s WorkKeys tests, which are job-skills assessments (Illinois and Michigan, for instance, give both exams to all 11th graders).

“We asked how we can make the results more useful and more relevant to students, teachers, and counselors,” Jon Erickson, president of education and career solutions at ACT, said in an interview on Tuesday.

The new scores and indicators will supplement students’ overall score on the exam. The ACT’s traditional 1-to-36 scale will stay the same.

But the ACT’s optional writing test is changing. Currently, the prompt for the 30-minute essay asks test takers to argue one side of an issue, such as whether high schools should require students to wear uniforms. Although samples of the new prompts were not yet available, Edward R. Colby, a spokesman for ACT, said the questions would be more nuanced.

“It won’t be ‘this side or that side,’” Mr. Colby said. “The question will ask students for multiple perspectives and support. It will be a more-complex prompt than what we’re delivering now.”

The essays will be scored in four categories: ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use. That approach will allow students to better determine their strengths and weaknesses, Mr. Erickson said. (Now, two graders score the essays on a 1-to-6 scale, based on an overall evaluation of the writing; the two scores are summed.)

Those changes may or may not make the writing test more appealing to colleges, most of which do not require applicants to submit writing scores (a shrinking number of institutions—about 12 percent—use the ACT writing test, according to ACT). Still, some of the colleges that do require it are large, and a majority of ACT takers write essays (52 percent of high-school seniors graduating this year).

Also this week, ACT officials said that four more states—Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wisconsin—would require all high-school juniors in public schools to take the ACT as part of a statewide assessment program. That will bring the total to 17 states.

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