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Sixty Years of Changing the Educational Narrative

Op-ed pieces about testing are often authored by writers who suggest that not only are tests from large testing companies biased, but that college-entrance testing is out of fashion and we should dispense with testing to eliminate systemic disparities. Nothing could be further from the truth!

I usually refer to those kinds of statements as throw-away statements because they are inaccurate and designed to grab the reader’s attention while disseminating a wrong and even harmful narrative.

Indeed, when used correctly, test results can make educational programs and services more accessible to at-risk students.

Since the early 1990s, the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, housed in the University of Iowa College of Education, has partnered with ACT to ensure that gifted and talented students, especially those from under-resourced schools, have access to advanced programming, which is often revealed through careful interpretation of their test scores.

This month, ACT celebrates its 60th anniversary and a steadfast history that has changed the educational narrative around tests and education. This milestone presents an opportunity to reflect on a six-decade history of distinction and innovation, which in turn serves as a platform for forecasting an equally distinguished future. Below, I’ve coupled six of ACT’s accomplishments with my forecasts for the future of their important work.
  1. Accomplishment: Development of a testing program designed to assess academic skills and achievement that can help learners understand and improve their readiness for college coursework. Co-founded by University of Iowa College of Education Professor E.F. Lindquist and University of Iowa Director of Admissions Ted McCarrel, ACT was established on the idea that testing and learning are interdependent, not discrete.

    Forecast: Expansion of testing into the broader educational arena including academic opportunities that are tailored to the individual student’s needs.

  2. Accomplishment: Bringing testing services to large numbers of college-bound students in public high schools as well as middle and elementary schools. For nearly half of ACT’s 60-year history, the Belin-Blank Center and ACT have collaborated to make above-level testing directly available to students who are in upper-elementary and middle school. Above-level testing is a model in which younger high-achieving students take a test designed for older students to determine the need for additional academic challenge.

    Forecast: Greater availability of multiple services to more schools and students, especially in middle school, through partnerships with university-based gifted centers and organizations like the Belin-Blank Center.

  3. Accomplishment: Establishment of partnerships with university-based academic talent searches across the country. In the early 1990s, the Belin-Blank Center joined with ACT to use their 8th-grade test, Explore, as an above-level test for high-ability 4th – 6th graders. Once the concept of above-level testing was proven effective through this collaboration, ACT expanded their services to their additional university-based talent search partners, including Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP) and Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development (CTD).

    Forecast: Deeper connections between the process of testing and learning. Our work at the Belin-Blank Center using ACT products makes salient the connections between testing and learning. Two things happen when a high-achieving student takes an above-level test. First, the student is exposed to content that is not typically taught at the student’s grade level. Being exposed to new content allows for engagement in the learning process. Second, a student’s performance on an above-level test can indicate readiness for additional challenge in specific content areas. The need for additional challenge is not readily apparent on grade-level tests, which are often not challenging enough to provide a full picture of what a high-ability student knows and is ready to learn.

  4. Accomplishment: Establishment of global partnerships. ACT co-founder Ted McCarrel’s connections with post-secondary institutions launched ACT’s partnerships with high schools and post-secondary institutions across the country and around the world.

    Forecast: Continued building of partnerships globally and locally. Over the past several years, ACT has created several partnerships with international organizations. ACT is vitally involved in preparing students from around the world to study at English-speaking universities.

  5. Accomplishment: Focusing holistically on students. Academic achievement does not happen in a vacuum. As ACT approached the 21st century, they recognized the need to better understand the role of psychosocial characteristics, such as motivation and student engagement, in the learning process.

    Enhanced investment in services and products that integrate myriad characteristics of the learner including past achievement, current psychosocial status, and future aspirations.

  6. Accomplishment: Research and development of multiple new products. Building upon its superb testing development capabilities, ACT expanded to include tests at the 10th-grade and 8th-grade level. The premise of these tests was that exploration and preparation before and during high school was critical for success in college. More recently, ACT developed an online test, Aspire, which allows educators in elementary and middle schools to assess their students’ learning throughout the academic year. Around the same time, ACT licensed 8th-grade assessment content to the Belin-Blank Center to create an online above-level test. The resulting assessment, I-Excel, is designed to be used by educators in schools with their high-achieving 4th-6th-grade students and is a service provided by the Belin-Blank Center through the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search.

    Forecast: Continued investment in research that leads to academic and psychosocial interventions that help students reach their potential.
For six decades, ACT, founded by professionals from the University of Iowa, has changed the narrative about testing and education. ACT’s leadership team remains open to new and innovative uses of their excellent products. For nearly half of ACT’s 60 years, the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center has been proud to continue this connection and partner with this forward-thinking organization.

Collaboration between ACT and Belin-Blank allows both organizations to advance a common aim of nurturing academic potential and inspiring excellence.

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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.