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E. F. Lindquist: A Legacy of Effort and Imagination

In honor of the 60th anniversary of ACT’s founding in 1959, ACT’s leaders are sharing their thoughts on our history – and how our past and present help to inform ACT’s future.

Einstein was a great thinker. Edison an incredible inventor. Eisenhower an unparalleled organizer. Each was a genius who changed the world.

And while it takes some hubris to claim that anyone ranks with these 20th century titans, ACT co-founder E.F. Lindquist – himself a thinker, inventor, and organizer – also had a special genius. Lindquist was the ultimate educational “thought leader” – a pioneer whose far-reaching contributions are still felt in classrooms around the world today.

Humble beginnings


Everet Franklin Lindquist was born in Gowrie, Iowa, in 1901. After graduating from college, he set off to study quantum physics at the University of Chicago in 1922. Before long he ran out of money, headed home, stopping at the University of Iowa for career advice. Soon Lindquist was a UI graduate student and then faculty member, and for the next 50 years a literal “constructive critic” – never afraid to question the status quo, but rarely without suggestions for a better approach.

“In particular, I shall try to demonstrate how dangerously fallacious and misleading are some of the ideas about achievement testing which are now widely prevalent and generally accepted,” said Lindquist at a 1933 conference. The upstart knew his words would upset his peers, but he intended to provoke attendees’ “interest to the point at which you will listen more patiently to the very dry technical discussion which I am going to impose upon you!”

In the rural America in which Lindquist spent his childhood, “4-H” was a staple. In that spirit, Lindquist’s humor, humility, hard work and hard data – attributes that still serve leaders well today – would pave the way for a half century of unrivaled educational innovation.

Data and Determination


In the early 1930s, Lindquist was responsible for Iowa’s “Brain Derby.” For the event, Lindquist needed to score thousands of tests, which meant testing during the day and scoring overnight. “This was almost more than I could manage,” he recalled, admitting “to feeling pretty desperate.”

Rather than retreat, Lindquist figured out how to score at scale. He leveraged those lessons to create achievement tests used in K-12 classrooms across the country. Within a few years, those tests were “lifted” (Lindquist’s word) to form the foundation of the GED high school equivalency exam, the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, and – in 1959 – the American College Testing program (now known as “ACT”) I am honored to lead today.

Given his growing influence, Lindquist knew he would be setting many of the standards for standardized testing and learning expectations in classrooms around the country. Expecting that some teachers would want to “teach to the test,” he made sure his tests covered content worth knowing. “Our philosophy is that since the tests are in any event bound to influence teaching, we might as well insure that their influence is in the right direction.”

That “right direction” meant ensuring ALL students had the tools they needed to learn. For example, Lindquist was troubled that “You could go to any school in the state and you hardly ever find a globe or atlas or encyclopedia; even dictionaries were pretty rare.” By including Study Skills in his tests, though, by 1933 he had put the pressure on schools to provide those resources. “You’ll now find a globe and similar study helps in every classroom.”

Through our Policy Platforms, ACT continues to advocate for students to master “the rapidly changing skill and technology needs of postsecondary education and the workforce.” ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning has also extended the conversation by conducting research on The Digital Divide and Educational Equity, documenting the educational obstacles students experience when they lack access to electronic devices – the 21st century equivalent of the “study helps” Lindquist helped make universal in classrooms across the country.

Invention and Impact


In 2015, ACT unveiled our Holistic Framework, which builds on traditional measures of academic achievement to provide a “more complete description of education and work readiness.” Among the Framework’s foundational skills is the ability to use technology to “acquire, evaluate, transform, and share information.”

Once again, E.F. Lindquist was ahead of the curve.

By the early 1950s, Lindquist realized that human scorers could not keep up with the millions of answer sheets his programs were generating so, leveraging his early learning in physics and mathematics, he invented an electronic scoring machine. If you’ve been asked to “take out your #2 pencil” to fill out an answer sheet, you’ve used Lindquist’s technology.

By making it possible for machines to score answer sheets, he vastly increased the speed in which results could be returned to students – and the ability of teachers to adjust their instruction to meet their students’ needs.

In 1968, looking forward to what more even capable theory and technologies might bring, Lindquist wrote “In the future we will use our amazing machine, not only to do more and more testing more and more efficiently, but to do better and better testing as well.” Two years later, in 1970, Lindquist foresaw a future in which “the testing materials will be almost indistinguishable from the learning materials.”

Today, both of Lindquist’s predictions are coming true.

Through the emerging field of Computational Psychometrics, in which ACT and ACTNext are the industry leaders, educators are increasingly able to personalize learning to meet the real-time needs of students. Instead of wasting time on content that is too easy or too hard for them, students invest their precious instructional time in what Lev Vygotsky called the “Zone of Proximal Development” (or what Goldilocks called “just right”).

That ubiquitous, invisible-but-essential integration of testing and learning is exactly where we are heading – but Lindquist could have told us that nearly 50 years ago. (And did.)

An Incentive to Work Harder


Lindquist, in laying out requirements for college entrance examinations in 1958, a year before ACT’s founding, wrote that they should focus not on rewarding the brightest students, but instead “should clearly constitute an incentive to elementary and high school students to work harder at the job of getting ready for college.”

At ACT, we have always believed assessment and achievement are two sides of the same coin, and that students learn best when they are given a real opportunity to master a rigorous curriculum, and then invest the effort needed to master the material.

Similarly, when our co-founder and continuing inspiration, E.F. Lindquist, encountered a challenge, he charged ahead, knowing that the limits to achievement are generally not imposed by our abilities, but instead by our effort and imaginations.

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ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Grounded in 60 years of research, ACT is a trusted leader in college and career readiness solutions. Each year, ACT serves millions of students, job seekers, schools, government agencies and employers in the US and around the world with learning resources, assessments, research and credentials designed to help them succeed from elementary school through career.

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