ACT’s controversial essay scoring has claimed more victims — in this case, two of its more student-friendly policies. Testers who felt that there were inconsistencies in the multiple-choice grading or that readers had incorrectly scored their essays have long had the right of appeal at ACT. One of the problems with that “right” is that it came with a price tag. For $50, students could have ACT reread and rescore their essays. Rescoring never resulted in a lower score and the $50 was returned if the score increased upon review; this was a low-risk way for students in the know (and with $50 laying around) to seek higher scores.
ACT’s score report services indicates that students can no longer directly challenge the legitimacy of their essay readers’ scores. Instead, the Score Verification Service will simply confirm that ACT followed its own rules and didn’t mis-scan the essay. “ACT will verify that your essay was scored by at least two independent, qualified readers and by a third reader in the event that the two scores differed by more than one point in any domain. ACT will also verify that your essay was properly captured and displayed to readers.” The essay would only be rescored if the verification reveals procedural missteps. ACT has knocked 20% off the fee (it is now $40) while knocking off almost 100% of the value. The hand-scoring service for bubble sheets appears to be another victim of ACT’s shift to stricter, more profitable policies.*
ACT’s essay rescoring policy was flawed from the outset. Given the absurdity of Writing grading, lots of refunds were given. The score changes were embarrassing to ACT and were clearly not helping the bottom line. It seemed inevitable that ACT would eventually adopt the “All Scores Final” policy of the College Board on the SAT Essay. No waivers were — or are — available for rescoring, so equity issues were a lingering concern. While the essay policy arguably provided justice for some students, it added to the pile of injustices for less advantaged testers.
Essay rescoring was useful in one sense: It put the lie to assertions that the scoring of these standardized timed “writing” tasks is reliable enough relative to the exercise’s value. What does it say about a test’s reliability and fairness if individual testers can challenge their score’s legitimacy for a fee and often prevail? However, that argument against the essay scoring methodology is made easily enough anyway.
The elimination of rescoring follows the abandonment of the 36 scale for the essay, announced a few months ago and implemented on the September 2016 exam. While it is encouraging that ACT seems to be responding to criticism, the fear is that it is taking a bunker mentality rather than engaging in discussion or providing transparency. The rescoring policy was dropped onto their website with no notice of a change. While 60-70% of ACT and SAT students will spend the extra fees and time for the optional essays, colleges are increasingly dubious about using essay scores for admission. Only about 10% of colleges are requiring ACT Writing for the class of 2017, and even those asking for the essay appear to put little weight on it. The nature of ACT Writing and SAT Essay scores is that the distinctions between applicants rarely have meaning. Students in the class of 2018 and beyond should closely track colleges’ essay policies. Concerns about “low scores” on the essay can sometimes lead to poor testing or re-testing decisions.
* For the multiple-choice portions of the test, score verification is another $50, and all that is promised is that “ACT will verify that your responses were checked against the correct score key.” We find this baffling. Who could imagine that a test could ever be scored with the wrong key? College Board’s hand-scoring service explicitly states that an obvious error in mis-bubbling, i.e. being one row off in recording answers on an entire section, could be manually corrected. It’s unclear whether ACT may simply be under-promising so that it can over-deliver. A black-and-white reading of the policy, though, indicates that the new service provides little hope of redress for students. We will update families and counselors when we learn more about how “score verification” is working in the real world.