Aug 22, 2014

Business is booming at the ACT

Washington and Lee University

According to a national score report released Wednesday, business is booming at the ACT, as a record 1.84 million high school students graduating in 2014, took what has become by far and away most the popular college entrance exam. 

And unless the College Board has some surprises in its annual report, which is expected shortly, the ACT shouldn’t be too concerned about losing this distinction any time soon. Projected changes in the SAT are drawing even more attention to the ACT, as the College Board appears to be moving its product closer its Iowa-based competitor

While ACT scores remain basically unchanged from last year with a national average Composite score of 21, a record 57 percent of the nation’s graduating class took the ACT—three percent more than in 2013 (despite a smaller graduating class).  Even more impressive:  the total number of ACT-taking high school graduates has increased almost 20 percent since 2010.

Supporting the ACT’s growth in popularity, eight states—Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming—administer the test to all students as part of their statewide assessment programs.  In fact, a total of 11 states administered the ACT to all of their 2014 graduates and five additional states will begin statewide ACT testing in the coming school year.

At the other end of the popularity scale, the fewest ACT’s were taken by students in Maine (9%), Rhode Island (16%), Delaware (18%), and Pennsylvania (19%).

Local numbers reflect national trends as the number of students taking the ACT in Maryland and Virginia has increased over the past five years by 18 percent and 19 percent respectively.

And why has the ACT suddenly become so popular even where it’s not used for statewide assessment? Perhaps it's because the test is considered by many to be more “consumer friendly” than competing College Board products. And at a number of colleges, the ACT with Writing may be substituted for both the SAT Reasoning and Subject Tests—saving the test-taker time, money, and aggravation.

But more important to college applicants is the fact that virtually every college and university in the country will accept either the ACT or the SAT. Because the tests are interchangeable, students may elect to submit scores from whichever test they choose—usually the one on which they scored best.

And they are increasingly choosing the ACT. Ten years ago, only 15 percent of the Washington and Lee incoming freshmen submitted ACT scores, according to Common Data Set information posted on the WLU website.  Last year, 51% of the freshman class submitted ACT’s to WLU. During the same period, the percent of freshmen submitting ACT’s to the University of Virginia went from 13 to 37, and at William and Mary the numbers went from 5 percent of freshmen submitting ACT’s ten years ago to 36 percent submitting last year.

An even more remarkable trend is evident at some selective liberal arts colleges.  Ten years ago, Williams reported no ACT’s submitted among incoming freshmen.  Last year, 40 percent of the Williams freshman class submitted ACT’s.  At Amherst, the percent of freshmen submitting ACT’s went from 11 to 41, and at Swarthmore the percent increase went from 12 to 37.  And while ten years ago none of Haverford’s incoming freshmen submitted ACT’s, last year, 40 percent provided ACT scores.

The ACT is a first cousin to the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which many of us took in grade school (long before computers were used to score them). It is a “curriculum based” achievement test designed to measure the skills necessary to succeed in college-level work.

For the record, our area continues to score very well on the ACT. Virginia’s average composite score was 22.8, well above the national average of 21. The average composite in Maryland was 22.6 and in DC, it was 21.6. Subscores were very similar with Virginia scoring slightly higher in all areas.

And somewhere in the DC region, 46 students earned perfect composite scores of 36—18 in Maryland, 26 in Virginia, and two in the District of Columbia.

For more a more complete summary of ACT national and state test results, visit the ACT website.

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