ACT test contains hidden bias

Alli Heckert, Reporter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

  A high school student today knows all too well the standardized testing process. Sharpen your #2 pencils, get out your blue/black ink pens, put any electronic devices into your locker, and stare at the wall until otherwise directed. However, what may be obvious to some who see the systemes unfit, is oblivious to those who benefit.  

 D.C Everest, like any other Wisconsin high school, has a mandatory ACT test date for its students that falls near early March. The minimal practice teachers are forced to include in their curriculum is mainly focused on how to take the test, because random variation of content inside the official test.

  However, for those who can afford, prep courses are offered, sometimes up to almost eighty dollars and span many nights a week with hours long curriculum being taught. For those who can afford- there are books, tutors, flash cards, and if the time comes and the score flops, if the fee is financially feasible, retaking the test is also an option.

 Of course internet age has improved access to preparatory materials, the bias is still evident. A correlation proves a student’s ACT score corresponds with their families income and access to resources.  Not only is the family’s income factored in, but also the student’s race and home background has been shown to directly impact the average scores.

  Many private companies that cater to selling educational materials say that the variation in testing data and bias is little, and the score range for various reasons, more likely not due to the bias of the test itself.

   “However, we would like to point out that the differences are small and that the variations among different members of any group are far more substantial than the differences in averages among groups. In other words, if you are a member of a group that does well on the ACT, don’t rely on that group membership to guarantee a good score,” said Chegg Inc. a well known marketer for ACT study materials. The bias alone in this statement is evident, as Chegg is a notable educational company that primarily sells testing materials, is defending the vary test they happen to retail content dedicated towards.

 According to Fair Test, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, “ACT scores are directly related to family income: the richer students’ parents are, the higher are average scores. But score gaps between groups on the ACT cannot be explained away solely by differences in educational opportunity linked to social class.  ACT research shows, when all factors are equal, such as coursework, grades and family income.”

  It is well known by test takers, that while it may be predictable, the content inside the booklet is unknown. An example of this is the Feb. 2018  the ACT Essay writing question was subjected around American football and the consequences to injuries caused in games. A student who had no background on the sport and injuries that may occur would have a significant disadvantage than students who had a knowledge on the topic. Under this logic, it is impossible for the test to accurately gauge the knowledge of the test taker. The purpose of the ACT Test according to Princeton Review is “to measure a high school student’s readiness for college, and provide colleges with one common data point that can be used to compare all applicants.” Most students taking the test have not completed a high school degree, and consequently, have not been taught the proper materials by the time to take the exam.

  While the ACT test is designed to accurately guide and inform educational institutions selecting their future students, the bias attached along with the test, accuracy assessing students’ academic credentials cannot be reached.  In order to provide an efficient method while using the ACT data, the prejudice must be eliminated while efforts to present historically known groups that have been slighted with the resources to attain better scores and even the data field. Targeting the minority and impoverished and granting them the assets they need in order to succeed and improve scores, will eliminate the bias and bad reputation attached to the ACT.