Luckbox Leans in with ACT CEO Janet Godwin
Many colleges and universities went “test optional” in their admissions process during the pandemic, but the ACT remains a determining factor for scholarships, courses and admissions
Is it still important to take the ACT and submit a test score to the college or university where you’re applying?
ACT scores are still beneficial for students and valuable to colleges. For students, beyond just helping them “get in,” a test score tells them where they are academically prepared for college and where they might need more help. Taking the test can also help students qualify for merit-based financial aid. We know that even as colleges continue to extend their temporary test-optional admissions policies, they are still using test scores when awarding scholarships.
What was ACT’s reaction to University of California schools, and other universities and colleges, going test optional this last year?
We have made clear that we stand by institutions in their efforts to best support the students we all serve. It’s no surprise to see colleges adapting their practices in response to market and competitive pressures.
What did ACT witness as a result of that decision?
It will take time to fully understand the ramifications of test-optional policies. While some institutions have reported an increase in the application or enrollment of diverse students, for example, it’s still unclear whether these gains are being offset elsewhere. We do know that institutions are having a harder time recruiting students, including those from underserved backgrounds.
The number of students taking the ACT has declined in the last couple of years. What’s the financial impact
on your organization?
ACT is financially healthy and well-positioned for the future. We finished fiscal year 2021 with positive operating income of $10 million. Today, the total number of test takers is well ahead of 2020. That’s, in part, thanks to unprecedented demand for our state and district programs, through which record-high numbers of students are taking the ACT test during the school day at no cost to them.
Many argue that high school grades predict college academic success more accurately than testing. What’s the ACT’s position?
ACT has long argued that the best predictor of college success is neither high school GPA nor test scores, but a combination of the two. For one in four students, their ACT score is not what would be expected based on their high school GPA—it’s either higher or lower. That means an ACT score—which is an objective, research-based measure of what students should have had the opportunity to learn in high school—can reveal important discrepancies in GPA. But in general, if you compare two students with the same high school GPA, the one with the higher ACT score is more likely to earn at least a 3.0 GPA as a college freshman.
We also know that high school grade inflation is an increasingly widespread, systemic issue that is weakening the value of student transcripts as a single measure of academic success.
How do you respond to criticism that standardized tests discriminate on the basis of income and race and that they favor the wealthy who can provide test-prep tutoring?
ACT test doesn’t create America’s education inequities—it helps reveal them. To solve these problems, we need to address the root causes, not dismiss the tools that help us understand them. When it comes to the correlation between income and test scores, most of this is due to inequities in high school coursework and grades, school characteristics and noncognitive student characteristics, such as study habits.
ACT is committed to an equitable testing process that is accessible to all students. More than one in five who register for the national ACT test use a fee waiver. Not only do these students not pay to take the test, they are also eligible for free test prep through ACT.