Oct 26, 2015

Colleges cope differently with ACT headache

Yale University

The complaints began with a vague rumble. While ACT scores were coming in slightly slower than in previous years, the Writing portion of the test was taking much longer.   More than a month after the September test, and most test-takers were still waiting for Writing scores.

From the beginning, it was assumed the problem was a combination of an unusually high test volume and slower than usual scoring because of a new scoring rubric. Instead of a ‘holistic writing score’ ranging from 2 to 12, students would receive a subject-level Writing score on the more familiar 1 to 36 scale. According to ACT, the new scale would allow for “precise evaluation of student writing and a more detailed score report.”

As the earliest application deadlines approached, students began to get anxious about scoring delays and contacted ACT. In response to their complaints, students were told:

“This a routine part of our quality assurance and scoring process. We apologize for any additional stress this messaging has caused you. Quality assurance steps may include, but are not limited to, incomplete answer documents and test center irregularity. We are unable provide a specific time frame for when your scores will be available; however, we are working diligently to make scores available as quickly as possible. We will continue releasing scores on Wednesdays and Fridays until November 6th.”

November 6? These tests were taken on September 12.  And what about all those early deadlines? In the past, ACT had very reliably provided scores within a couple of weeks after the test. This time, ACT indicated it might take as long as eight weeks to score the tests.

And the problem wasn’t going to be limited to September scores. October test-takers could also expect delays in their score reports, which again would be held-up by the absence of a Writing score.

Because ACT would not release “partial” reports, no scores would be sent to colleges until the Writing portion was scored and posted—even for colleges neither needing nor requiring a Writing score. It wasn’t the policy or it cost too much. Take your pick.

In the meantime, a number of tests from the Annapolis, Maryland area were lost or destroyed in route to ACT for scoring. Once the problem was discovered, ACT simply enrolled them for the October test—free of charge. And instead of agreeing to send these tests to the front of the line for scoring, students were advised that ACT had up to 8 weeks to post scores and no exceptions would be made for this group. 

In other words, scores the Annapolis students had expected by the end of September, could take until December 18 to be received—after decisions would be released for many early applicants.

As a stopgap measure, ACT contacted colleges and urged them to accept “screenshots” of scores in lieu of official reports for those students whose scores would not be available in time. ACT contends that for September the number should be small, and those students will be supplied with emails from ACT indicating they are among those without timely reports. 

Many colleges knowing of the ACT problem reacted like Pomona College with some degree of sympathy and provided clear instructions on their websites as to how the screenshots should be provided:

“If you are concerned that your score report may be delayed, please send a copy of the email you receive from ACT, along with a screenshot of your ACT multiple-choice test scores from your official ACT student account directly to admissions@pomona.edu if you are applying Early Decision I or to questbridge@pomona.edu if you are applying through QuestBridge College Match. Please take the screenshot on your computer, not on your mobile phone.” 

Others, like Yale, took the opportunity to increase stress for students who took the October ACT, although their website has consistently offered the October date as acceptable for early action consideration:

“ACT has notified colleges that score reporting from [October] will be delayed due to the implementation of enhancements to the writing portion of the test. Please understand that we cannot guarantee that we will receive October results in time to be considered in the Early Action admissions process. 

Plan ahead! You do not need to wait to take the tests on the very last eligible date.”

Hopefully this lecture doesn’t apply to the students in Annapolis, who made the honest effort to complete testing by September. 

In the meantime, students are caught in a dilemma. Many want to actually see scores before having them sent. Unfortunately, some of these students won’t receive reports until just before deadline. ACT says reports are received by colleges in about 2 or 3 days after an order has been placed, but who knows? There are no guarantees, and some schools are holding very firm to their early deadlines.

Self-reporting on applications is one possibility, but is a little tricky for the Common Application. If the student indicates they have taken the ACT with Writing, the application won’t be complete without all of the scores including Writing. Choosing just the ACT option poses an “accuracy” problem, which can be explained in Additional Information, but just makes things more complicated.

The screenshot solution only works for colleges willing to consider them—with or without the special email from ACT indicating they are among those affected by the problem. And not all colleges will.

For a sample of publicly announced policies, check back tomorrow.

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