Lucas Holter

Following the announcement about changes to the ACT that allow students to retake individual sections, critics fear that the updates may advantage students from higher-income households.

With last week’s changes, students will also be able to take the ACT — one type of standardized exam used for undergraduate college admissions — online on nationally scheduled dates and can “superscore” the test, allowing them to combine their highest scores from subsections across examinations taken on different days. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan declined to comment on the new policy’s effect on Yale admissions. But according to Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest — an organization dedicated to fair testing practices — the ability to retake certain sections will further allow students with better access to financial resources to more easily improve their scores.

“The losers are likely to be kids from historically disadvantaged backgrounds whose scores will fall further behind their more advantaged peers, because they do not have the resources or knowledge to ‘game’ the new system,” Schaeffer said. “The option to retake specific sections clearly benefits students from families with the means to pay for multiple testing sessions, thus increasing score gaps.”

Schaeffer also noted that this new change will push colleges to become test-optional — a policy that he supports. He said colleges will now need to reconsider what a score of 32on a particular section means, given that a student may have taken it multiple times. Schaeffer believes that going test-optional like the University of Chicago will alleviate the stress that the testing company is aiming to reduce.

Currently, the ACT test score is calculated by averaging four subscores from each section. When sending scores to colleges, students need to send in multiple examinations if they want schools to see their highest composite result. But starting in September 2020, students will get a new “superscore” that combines their highest performances on subsections from each time they took the test. Students will no longer have to report all scores from individual sittings.

In addition, students will be allowed to retake individual sections of the tests — math, English, reading, science and writing — without having to retake the entire test.

“Students come first at ACT, and these groundbreaking new options will directly benefit them, providing more choices, an improved testing experience, and a better opportunity to showcase their readiness and reach their maximum potential,” wrote Suzana Delanghe, ACT chief commercial officer, on the company’s website.

Supporters of the change say the updates will value the limited time of busy high schoolers.

“I personally think it’s a great idea simply because it respects students’ time. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure a lot of us were crazy busy in high school, so saving study time and testing time by re-taking the individual sections is great,” said Natalia Taylor ’21, president of Yale’s QuestBridge chapter. “That way, the extra energy and time can be spent on the subject the student would really like to improve their score in.”

In addition, students will have the option of online or paper testing on national test days at ACT test centers. Online tests will only be available at select locations initially but will eventually expand to all sites. According to the ACT website, the online testing “offers faster results compared to traditional paper-based administration — two days compared to around two weeks.”

Currently, Yale requires applicants to submit the SAT or the ACT, but the University does not require that applicants complete the optional writing section on either. Yale admissions officers consider the highest individual section scores from all test dates. When assessing ACT results, admissions officers will focus on the highest ACT Composite from all test dates while also considering individual ACT subscores.

These changes come in the midst of the debate of standardized tests’ role in college admissions. Many schools, such as Wesleyan University and the University of Chicago, are now opting to go test-optional.

“I think that while this has the potential to make the ACT and standardized testing more equitable, the bottom line is that standardized testing will always disadvantage FGLI students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds in general,” said Paige Swanson ’20, co-president of First-Generation Low-Income at Yale. “Additionally, I think that there is a concern that this change will make the ACT even more of a ‘game’ for students and parents in a way that will continue to disadvantage FGLI applicants.”

The middle 50 percent of composite ACT test scores of current first years at Yale is 33-35.

Kelly Wei | kelly.wei@yale.edu