Oct 22, 2015

ACT urges students to send ‘screenshots’ of scores to colleges

In what could be one of the bigger fails in the history of standardized testing, ACT executives today announced that scores from the September test could in many cases be delayed beyond deadlines for this year’s early college applications.

“For students who took the ACT® with the optional writing test, scoring and reporting of results is taking longer than typical due to the introduction of the enhanced design of the writing test, which uses a new scoring rubric,” wrote Steve Kappler, ACT vice president for brand experience in an email to NACAC members. “Students who took the ACT with writing may view their multiple-choice scores—their ACT composite score, subject test scores (English, mathematics, reading and science), and subscores—on the ACT student website. Official score reports, however, cannot be sent to students, high schools or colleges until the writing test scoring is complete.”

The problem appears to be some combination of an unusually high September test volume and slower-than-usual scoring because of the transition to both a new scoring rubric and a new scale for the Writing portion of the test.  Instead of a ‘holistic writing score’ ranging from 2 to 12, students will now receive a subject-level Writing score on the more familiar 1 to 36 scale. According to ACT, the new scale will allow for “precise evaluation of student writing and a more detailed score report.”

So far, ACT has refused to support students affected by the absence of Writing scores by sending colleges official score reports minus the Writing score for students needing these results for early consideration. No reason has been provided, only an indication that it’s not the policy of ACT to send partial results.

So where does that leave students? ACT suggests that they take “screenshots” of their scores as posted on the ACT website and send copies of the email explanation from ACT along with the screenshot to “applicable colleges to verify they are among the students impacted by this situation.”

ACT is urging colleges to consider accepting the screenshots of students’ September multiple-choice scores from their official ACT student account as a provisional measure. Presumably  official reports may be ordered or will be immediately forwarded once Writing scores become available. ACT advises that "the college typically receives the score report within 2 to 3 days" after an order has been placed.

Another option would be for colleges to make decisions based on self-reported scores provided on applications, contingent on the receipt of official reports later or after admission.  This option opens the door for rejected students not to pay for score reports after the fact.

But the problem doesn’t end with the September tests. October test-takers can also look forward to delays in scoring such that they may be eliminated from early consideration at some schools. In response to a notification received from ACT, Boston College announced:

"ACT has notified colleges that delivery of scores this year will be delayed due to their implementation of an enhanced design to the Writing portion of the test.  While we will make every effort to include October results in our evaluation of Early Action applications, it is likely that they will not arrive in time to be considered.  Students should designate Boston College as a recipient of these results on or before the day they take the exam to ensure their swiftest possible delivery to the Office of Undergraduate Admission."

This, of course, eliminates the opportunity for students to review scores before having them sent directly to colleges.  And in view of some of the extremely low Writing test scores received so far by otherwise outstanding students, this may be a recommended course of action.

Colleges are only now being updated by ACT on the situation, which has been evolving over the past several weeks. Test-takers, who are directly affected by the delays in reporting, will be notified by email in the next several days.

All this is very disappointing for those who looked to ACT as a strong alternative to the confusion arising from the College Board transition to a new test. Hopefully ACT will get scoring timelines back to normal and make administrative accommodations for the larger-than-usual number of students taking the increasingly popular test.

And given the ease with which scores may be sent electronically, ACT should really be willing to  send colleges partial score reports to accommodate test-takers in both September and October, for those schools not willing to accept screenshots or self-reported scores on applications.

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