Dear Commons Community,
Jon Erickson, long-time president of ACT who is retiring, gave an interview which was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday. He offers a number of insights from someone who has been involved with standardized testing for several decades. Here is a sample:
Ques: ACT or SAT scores can put some students on colleges’ radar screens. But test scores can undersell other students’ potential, especially those who come from low-income families. What kind of responsibility do organizations that create and sell standardized tests have to mitigate that problem?
Ans: I think about this question every day. There isn’t a measure that takes the socioeconomic factor out of the equation, there’s no magic pill that’s going to put everyone on even ground. The biggest problem is that our country is unequal, and in some places there’s less commitment to education, less time devoted to supporting students, less money to buy resources, less family time doing educational things outside of school. All of those things are really huge to me. We’re trying really hard to be one more voice talking about those gaps and why they need to be closed. We’ve created a unit focusing on underserved students, we’re giving away names for free for recruitment purposes.
Something I hope holds promise is a more-holistic view of students, so that we’re looking at them not just through the achievement lens of reading, science, and math, but also at their academic behaviors, interests, and goals. I believe that holds some promise not just for counseling but also for admissions.
Ques: In other words, you see potential in so-called noncognitive assessments? Is there a specific quality, like leadership, that you think tests could reliably measure?
Ans: One piece that’s still a challenge is that grit skills, if you will, are easy to fake or game. So I’m not ready to say we can use measures of grit in high-stakes admissions decisions, but they can at least inform advising and counseling.
Ques: What are the most meaningful testing innovations that you see coming? How might the experience of taking the ACT change for students?
Ans: One will be results turned around almost immediately, with better personalization and diagnostics telling students the skills they need to work on. There may be a time not too far away when admissions testing blends into formative testing in K-12, where it’s more of an educational activity rather than a number sent to a student: Here are your strengths, here’s what you need to work on, here’s how you can work on them, and maybe even a list of colleges that might seem like a good fit to explore. That’s a big frontier.”
The entire interview is interesting reading. Mr. Erickson knows his subject well.