Finally! Finally, some colleges and universities are forgoing the reliance on the ACT or SAT in selecting candidates for admission. In Illinois, Knox College led the way in 2005; next fall Monmouth College and Western Illinois University (WIU) will be adopting a "test optional" policy, the second Illinois public university to move to this practice (Northwestern University was first). WIU will use an ACT score for scholarship awards and will not require the test for students with a grade point average above 3.3. In California, a lawsuit is expected to be filed claiming the ACT and SAT are illegal because they are biased and favor higher socio-economic students.
I am not an advocate of using these tests as a main determinant for college acceptance. My view comes after a 44-year career in education.
Although the ACT is meant to be a predictor of college success, it became the be-all, end-all test when No Child Left Behind came into existence. The ACT was considered the actual mastery a student attained, and the scores of students were used to rate the school. What made this even worse was that the school's assessment was compared to the previous year's test scores, scores of an entirely different set of students.
I watched juniors and seniors cram and practice, stress and fret, get disappointed or elated – all over the ACT test. Often score results didn't match classroom performance.
One student might score high on the ACT, but daily work (if even completed), class quizzes and participation in class fell far short of mastery. Another might do very well on daily work but score poorly on the ACT. Which one really indicated future college success?
Some students truly suffer from test anxiety; some may be ill. Both affect performance. I recall a student who sat shaking during the test. I recall a student, a brilliant writer, totally bomb a state writing test. He explained he had had a splitting headache on test day.
One year, four students in my English class at Southeast High School scored perfect ACT scores of 36. They had one common denominator -- all were on the scholastic bowl team. They were experts in learning details/trivia, memorizing facts and retaining information. No wonder they could answer picky grammar questions and compute difficult math problems on the ACT. Admittedly, I haven't conducted a scientific study to determine the correlation of a student's ACT score to participation in scholastic bowl, but it was an interesting observation. For those who say teachers should be paid based on their students' test scores, I would love to take full credit for these students' perfect ACT scores, but I, alone, did not make that happen.
As a former English teacher, I certainly promote the proper use of grammar and know that many adults could use an eighth-grade refresher course. But I also realize that knowing where a comma should be placed in a particular sentence construction does not make or break someone in the scheme of things. That, though, is what the ACT expects.
Parents, of course, play a huge role in helping their children learn. Studies have shown that reading to kids, having books in the home, taking children to museums, paying for ACT prep classes, help them. The socio-economic divide often leaves many children lacking in these experiences.
I applaud the growing number of colleges that are recognizing that there is more to a student than an ACT score. Grades, community service, experiences in sports, the arts (studies have shown a correlation between test scores and participation in music/band) and leadership roles develop students. Let's hope this trend continues, and we look at students as more than their scores.
Cinda Ackerman Klickna of Rochester taught English and served as Illinois Education Association president.