The Enhanced ACT Writing Test: What Educators Should Know
Last fall, ACT rolled out their Enhanced ACT Writing test, which is its most significant adjustment at a time when the Redesigned SAT is moving in the direction of the ACT in terms of format, content, and structure.
What should educators know about the new version of the ACT essay?
Why ACT Revamped the Essay
The revamped version of the ACT essay includes a number of adjustments in both the task and the scoring of the writing, which may have led to confusion for many students—especially, perhaps, seniors retesting with a different version of the writing than they’d seen in the spring.
ACT states that they are driven by their research into college-readiness skills required in college writing as well as their role in the creation of the Common Core State Standards, bringing the essay writing task better in line with high school curriculums. This goal will, at the very least, be met by the more detailed scoring—which will allow educators to better use and integrate the results from the writing test.
College and Career Relevance
The Enhanced ACT Writing test shifted from a more generic, persuasive essay to a task that more specifically asked students to address given perspectives on a controversial topic, relate their own perspectives, and analyze arguments for each. The test was lengthened by ten minutes—from thirty minutes to forty—as a result of the increased complexity. It also now more directly assesses students’ rhetorical analysis and skills in developing an argument rather than a classical persuasive writing task.
The more sophisticated essay appears to be a better mirror for both college and real-world writing applications. Rather than provide an arbitrary opinion on a topic, students will have to relate their own viewpoint to existing perspectives and arguments.
Teachers may find that implementing tasks like this in their own classrooms requires students to better attend to the relevance of their reasoning and evidence, and may better prepare students for the types of literary and textual analysis required by high school and college educators alike. Students, however, may find the complexity and challenge of the task even more difficult at the end of a three-hour assessment.
The changes to the scoring of the assessment may be perhaps more monumental to educators than the changes to the structure of the essay itself. There are two primary changes to the scoring:
- The scoring changes from a holistic approach to a competency-based approach in four areas: Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use
- The scores on the four writing competencies will be combined to provide a scaled score out of 36.
These four domain scores (each out of 12, as ACT writing has scored essays in the past), will then be scaled to a score out of 36. This new scaled score will not count towards the composite score. However, perhaps the most significant outcome of this scaled score is that students will now be able to more directly compare their essay score with their other subject area scores, which will allow them to see if they have achieved their goal of transfer.
Can students successfully transfer their Usage and Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills—perhaps demonstrated ably on the multiple-choice English test—to the task of generating their own writing? The two scores—now provided on the same scale—will allow educators and students to see whether those skills have transferred from a multiple choice test to the essential setting of student writing.
Academic Approach has long embraced competency-based grading in order to provide students with specific areas for growth. We’ve always provided students with rubrics following practice essays. ACT’s move to provide similar information will undoubtedly provide greater foundation for students to make targeted improvements in their writing style.
A Change for the Better
At Academic Approach, we’re excited about the enhanced assessment. Imagine integrating similar activities into a debate in a Social Studies class. Students could read a number of opinions on controversial topics—perhaps primary sources in a history class—and evaluate each opinion in relation to the others.
In a literary analysis, a student might debate, in writing, a number of potential interpretations of a significant text. The critical thinking required by these tasks is significant, and ACT’s effort to incorporate more Common Core-style tasks is evident.
How have the changes to the ACT Essay impacted your instruction?