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ACT's CEO is not worried about the supposed demise of standardized tests

·3 min read

Many U.S. colleges made standardized testing optional in this year's admissions cycle — some are even making the moves permanent

But Janet Godwin, CEO of Iowa City-based ACT, told Yahoo Finance that she isn't concerned about the test-optional movement.

"Four-year colleges use assessment data from ACT and College Board's SAT for many, many purposes, not just admissions," Godwin, who has spent 30 years at the company and assumed the CEO role in November 2020, said. "So in the spirit of test-optional, even if schools are not going to require scores for admissions, they will still look at scores of students."

Schools use test scores for recruitment, scholarships, and to evaluate support services for students, Godwin noted, "so I think our view is: Admissions is important, yes, but all those other dimensions of how a college uses its scores in that whole recruitment and retention cycle is really, really critical."

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Pandemic impact

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the testing industry was firing on all cylinders with the number of tests taken rising each year.

And with the rise of tests comes the rise of test prep.

“There are several multi-billion-dollar industries that exist to support the process of applying to college,” Akil Bello, director of advocacy and advancement at FairTest, told Yahoo Finance, later noting that these business areas include “the counseling industry, the sports industry, the test prep industry, [and] the extracurricular activity industry.”

The pandemic brought disruption: Both the ACT and the College Board had to deal with a number of closures and frustrated parents amid the pandemic last summer.

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"When COVID hit last spring, schools across the country and businesses shut down, and we were affected by those closures," Godwin said. "We canceled our April test date last year, just because schools were closed. We did resume testing operations in June [last year], but with smaller volumes." Part of the reason was because ACT had to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

As vaccinations picked up and the country reopened, she added, "schools were really, really interested in understanding where their students are, especially this spring. After a year of COVID impacting learning, schools, districts, [and] states were very keen to understand what that impact was on students' learning, where they were in terms of benchmarks, and getting ready for post-secondary education."

ACT said that the company had already tested over 2.16 million students this fiscal year between the national and state district programs.

ACT CEO Janet Godwin. (ACT)
ACT CEO Janet Godwin. (ACT)

ACT is an 'amazing instrument'

Standardized testing also has a key role to play in college access and equity, Godwin stressed.

"Our North Star is all about fighting for equity in education," she said. "We want to make sure that students, especially those students who face systemic barriers have resources, have materials, information, access to navigating a high school experience that will set them up for success after high school, whatever path they take — if they're going to four-year college, community college, a credentialing program, apprenticeship program."

Aside from K-12 education, the company has also been trying to diversify into adult learning, such as with a program called "ACT Workforce Solutions." The program helps students — in K-12 schools all the way up to community colleges — understand their skill sets and strengths before they start working.

Hands of a student are shown with pencil and test booklet during New York State math test on May 2, 2017. (Photo by John Paraskevas/Newsday RM via Getty Images)
Hands of a student are shown with pencil and test booklet during New York State math test on May 2, 2017. (Photo by John Paraskevas/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

There's still a lot more that needs to be done, Godwin said, such as transitioning away from paper and pencil testing at a center and to computerized testing "to innovate the delivery experience."

Experts including FairTest's Bello argue that the number of schools requiring testing will continue to go down, adding that the "value of testing to the college admissions process is ... fairly minimal."

Nevertheless, according to Godwn, the ACT will remain as "an amazing instrument used to demonstrate academic readiness against college readiness benchmarks."

Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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