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ACT Kicks Off 60th Anniversary Celebration

Consider 1959, the year during which the organization then known as “American College Testing” gave its first ACT test:

  • On January 3, Alaska was admitted as the 49th state, followed a few months later by Hawaii.
  • Gunsmoke was the top-rated TV show, with another western, Wagon Train, in second place.
  • And on November 20, the United Nations issued its “Declaration of the Rights of the Child,” which held that each child shall be given an education “to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility.”
While seemingly a statement of universal values, the Declaration was not universally applied. Across the world in 1959, nearly 40 percent of people were unable to read and write, and in the poorest countries, as few as 4 percent of children were in school.

In my native country, the Netherlands, our society was still recovering from World War II. Universities were for the fortunate few, which generally did not include people like my parents who never had the opportunity to receive postsecondary educations.

In the United States, politics kept some students from their classrooms. As 1959 began, a number of schools in one state were closed in a display of “massive resistance” rather than have children—black or white—be educated under integrated conditions.

Even among more fortunate students, life was far from fair. Just over 45 percent of U.S. high school graduates went on to college, but that gender-neutral number hides an unfortunate fact. About 54 percent of males enrolled in college, but only 38 percent of females. Total enrollment in degree-granting institutions was 3.64 million, about a million more than 1949, but less than half the 8 million of 1969.

ACT Begins

It was into that roiling environment that ACT was born. To create freer, fairer access to educational opportunity, ACT co-founder E.F. Lindquist argued college admissions should be based on earned achievement, not unearned “aptitude.” According to the New York Times, “When his proposal was rejected by the College Board, Dr. Lindquist decided to create his own alternative. He partnered with Ted McCarrel, Iowa's dean of admissions, who helped persuade his counterparts at other state institutions to drop the entrance exams they had developed on their own in favor of the ACT.

“On Nov. 7, 1959 – 33 years after the advent of the SAT – 75,406 students took the first ACT test.”

Since Our Founding

The world has changed over the past six decades, often for the better. The global literacy rate has increased from 60 percent to 86 percent. In the Netherlands and the United States, the opportunities for higher education are much more prevalent; in the U.S., for example, the number of college students has increased from 3.64 million in 1959 to more than 20 million today.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the college-going gender imbalance has reversed, with nearly 57 percent of college students being women compared to 43 percent men; today’s challenge is increasing male enrollment. The NCES also notes that from 1976 to 2016 African American college enrollment more than doubled, to more than 2.5 million, while Hispanic college enrollment saw a nearly nine-fold increase, from 383,800 to more than 3.4 million.

Meanwhile, K-12 education is more diverse than ever, with America’s classrooms becoming majority-minority in 2014.

Enduring Vision

These are extraordinary times, with remarkable social and technological change creating new realities on an ongoing basis. In other ways, though, they’re completely ordinary.

During his lifetime, which spanned 1901 to 1978, Dr. Lindquist experienced the effects of two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the advent of the computer era. He used those experiences and his exceptional drive to create more opportunities for all people—from the youngsters who took his Iowa Test of Basic Skills to the WWII veterans who sat for the GED, which was based on his Iowa Test of Educational Development.

His ideas continue to shape ACT as we embrace emerging fields such as computational psychometrics. Today, we’re anticipating that the approaching convergence of learning, measurement, and navigation will both transform and enhance education, just as Lindquist did when he wrote, “In the highly individualized systems of computer based and computer assisted instruction of the future, it will be almost impossible to distinguish the testing materials from the teaching materials.”

Sixty years ago, our world was a different place, often with more difficult challenges. That reality should give us a profound sense of humility, and hope, as we celebrate ACT’s 60th anniversary and look forward to tackling our challenges of the future.

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About ACT

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.