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Sixty Years, and Counting, of Serving Students’ Needs

Seventy-five thousand is a lot of people. It’s enough to fill a football stadium or populate a medium-sized city. It’s also the number (75,406, to be exact) of young people who took the very first ACT test on November 7, 1959—exactly 60 years ago today.

What compelled so many students to take an “untested” test? For most of us, it’s hard to imagine ourselves as high school students in the late 1950s—but I think if there was one word to describe what drew so many students to test centers on what was likely a chilly morning somewhere in the upper Midwest, that word would be “inclusion.”

For the first time, the “average” hardworking, high-achieving high school student had a test designed for him, and increasingly for her. For decades, there had been only one national admissions test—which had a reputation for being designed to help a handful of selective schools to pick the few students to whom they would offer admission—and, by implication, the many more students they would leave out.

The ACT, on the other hand, provided a path to higher education for all students who could benefit from a college degree—at a state school, hundreds of private schools or, in fact, the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country.

Initial 1959 announcement

The idea that college was for everyone was so novel that it not only required a new test, but a news release.

On September 8, 1959, the University of Iowa issued a press release in which our co-founders, UI education professor E.F. Lindquist and UI registrar Ted McCarrel, provided the rationale for what was to be called the “American College Testing” program.

First on their list was the increase in students expected to attend college over the next 10 years—from 711,000 in 1959 to 1,267,000 in 1969.

“The bulge in our teen-age population,” said Lindquist, “will squeeze our colleges to the limits in the next few years. In part, the colleges will have to decide a crucial question: ‘Who shall go to college?’ ACT will make a major contribution toward the answer.”

“It will provide high schools and colleges with a uniform, yet flexible, admissions program and give them reports that are now costly and hard to obtain. The continuous research that will result from ACT will be helpful to high schools and colleges—and, ultimately, to students themselves.”

“One of ACT' s chief advantages,” added McCarrel, “is that it will provide colleges with comparable ability data for students enrolling from other states—information they now get for only a very few students.”

According to the release, “participation in ACT thus will enable colleges to eliminate the growing variety of separate entrance, scholarship, and placement exams.” As McCarrel noted, “The bewildering array of tests today with a similar purpose is costly and frustrating to educators, to parents, and to students themselves.”

Today’s ACT

Sixty years after the first ACT test was given, we continue to enhance our programs to meet the needs of contemporary students.

Just last month, we announced that starting next fall students will be able to test online during ACT national test dates, take single section retests so they can focus on areas of most interest, receive faster scores from online testing, and benefit from superscoring—the ability to combine the best results from each section test across multiple test dates to create a Composite superscore.

These options will provide students with more choices, a better testing experience, and a greater opportunity to showcase their readiness and reach their potential.

The preceding sentence was written just seconds ago, but it could have also been written by our co-founders 60 years ago.

It is in the spirit of our shared commitment to excellence and opportunity, for everyone, that I am proud to mark this 60-year anniversary of ACT.

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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.