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More Colleges Discrediting ACT Essay, which Can Be Re-scored for a Price

Recent changes to the different grading system on the newly designed ACT essay have stirred confusion and controversy among college-bound high school students. The perplexingly low scores on the exam’s writing portion has raised concerns about the value of standardized essay testing and even its honesty.

This skeptical sentiment has also influenced college admissions. John McLaughlin, an associate dean at the University of Pennsylvania admissions, remarked, “I can understand the unease.” Possibly as a result of this discontent, the University of Pennsylvania along with Cornell, Columbia, Boston College, and Northwestern are eliminating the ACT essay requirement. These schools are joining the University of Chicago, Georgetown, and Washington University in St. Louis, all of which never instated the essay stipulation.

The redesign was intended to “allow students to more fully demonstrate analytical ability,” said ACT spokesman, Edward R. Colby. But the new essay–now graded on a one to thirty-six scale rather than the previous one-to-twelve ratio–has obvious discrepancies between this section and the others.

While 30-32 percent of test takers obtain a score of 23 or above on the other sections, only 19 percent achieve a score of 23 or above in writing. As a result of this grading adjustment, 30 range test takers often receive essay scores in the low 20s.

While an ACT analyst asserts that scores and satisfaction will increase with students’ familiarity with the prompts and these scoring adjustments, an alternative exists to achieve fair marks, but it has nothing to do with fair process.

Students may pay $50. to have their essay re-scored. So once again, privilege wields its power in the American education system. Those who use this option will be refunded the fee if their score increases, but this is a gamble that many disadvantaged students cannot take. Colby states only 300 of 4.3 million test takers request a  re-score. Even fewer actually increase their score.

This option combined with the abnormally low essay results allows the ACT to exploit the desperation of high schoolers in the competitive admissions atmosphere. Those who can afford the fee receive the benefit of a favorable second look, which in one case bumped a student’s score from a 19 to a 31. Those whose scores do not improve from the re-score lose their $50 and are likely to pay another $54.50 for another attempt at the test, which will likely be accompanied by an excess of private tutoring.

Those who can’t afford a re-score seem stuck with a result that is more reflective of an organization’s greed than the students’ actual merit.

Either way, the ACT continues to make more money than it would have before the redesign-and at the detriment of young Americans.

As universities question the uncertainties of standardized testing and essays, perhaps their suspicions will even the playing field.

For currently, the ACT and SAT continue to skew admissions in the favor of the wealthy.


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