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Reviewing: A Review

In the final blog of our three-part series on ACT content and fairness reviewers, Jennifer Johnson—a high school English teacher at Booker High School in Sarasota, Florida—blogs for us on the professional camaraderie she enjoys as a content and fairness reviewer, and how the process has evolved during COVID-19. Read on and don’t forget to catch up on the first and second blogs in the series. Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week to our many dedicated content and fairness reviewers!

I chose to become an English teacher because I love language and literature. Little did I know that most of my students would not share such (nerdy?) enthusiasm. While I absolutely love lighting the spark in them, sometimes what I really need is professional camaraderie. I found exactly that when I had the opportunity to review test items for ACT.

I was introduced to this whole process when a colleague who had recently reviewed test items for ACT gave them my name as a potential reviewer. At that time, I was a sent a package of test materials to read and review before I would fly to Iowa City to be part of the panel review. I was nervous when I first arrived but was quickly put at ease. Everyone at the table was working toward the same goal, and everyone shared my love of language. What followed was a two-day discussion and review of the test items. We played with grammar and language and made nerdy jokes that only language lovers would appreciate. It was a fantastic professional experience. This was several years ago, and the process has changed a bit.

More recently, the item review is done one hundred percent electronically. The types of items reviewed and the focus of the review depends on which test ACT is currently developing and where they are in the item writing process. I have reviewed reading passages and writing sections for the ACT. I have also reviewed items for high school tests. My favorite items to review, though, are the writing and grammar passages.

The panel discussions are an invaluable experience. For me, I gain insight into what ACT is testing (English is a living language and its grammar is always evolving) and how they make certain that every item is valid and reliable. These reviews also help me improve how I assess my students. Multiple choice test questions can be quite complex, so it’s a great way to hone my assessment skills.

ACT values inclusion and diversity in the passages they select and in the ways questions are asked. Therefore, in addition to ensuring valid and reliable test items, reviewers are asked to pay attention to cultural perspectives and inclusive language. If a passage or item is problematic, it will be changed or excluded from the final draft. I teach at a school with a diverse faculty and very diverse student body. Equity is always my goal. To that end, I often look beyond the textbook and beyond the canon of dead, white men (Kurt Vonnegut, however, remains an all-time favorite of mine). The test passages include literature, natural sciences, and history among a few others. I have learned a lot from the passages, and they serve as a reminder of how I want my class and the texts I cover to feel for my students. I have read passages on such a variety of topics from ocean exploration to fungi to narratives set on every continent to the origin of candy. It is a wholly invaluable experience to review test items for ACT.

Jennifer is an English teacher at Booker High School in Sarasota, FL. She has been reviewing test items for ACT since 2013.

We’re currently recruiting content and fairness reviewers for the ACT test (specifically for Reading and English). Interested in supporting the development of a fair and equitable test? Apply to be a content and fairness reviewer.