In January we reported on the seemingly inconsistent score results we had observed after the first several administrations of the new ACT essay. In recent weeks, the extent of the inconsistencies has become apparent with the return of hand-scored essays. When our students’ updated essay scores came back, we were taken aback by the magnitude of the net scoring gains. Every one of our students who asked for a hand re-score saw a meaningful increase. One of our tutors, a former professor at Emory, requested a hand scoring and saw his 24 composite essay score rise to a 33. The Washington Post similarly reported that a student in Rhode Island saw a score of 19 rise to a 31. What is going on here?
It is apparent that there are serious problems with consistency of scoring between different graders. Our tutor, who is a highly skilled writer with years of experience grading undergraduate papers, received the following scores on the December ACT essay:
|Ideas and Analysis||9|
|Development and Support||9|
|Language Use and Conventions||9|
Stunned by his 24 on the essay (compared to his 34 ACT composite score), our professor requested a hand-scored essay, risking the $50 fee that would only be refunded in the event his essay was returned with a net score increase. After six weeks of waiting, his essay was hand graded and returned. Under this higher level of scrutiny, the following scores were returned:
|Ideas and Analysis||12|
|Development and Support||11|
|Language Use and Conventions||12|
Our tutor was finally recognized by the ACT as the highly skilled writer that he is! But his experience is concerning. When a student has to lay down $50 and wait over a month to attain proper grading, this creates a serious issue of access.
Though these individual cases may be outliers, the fact that they exist threatens the validity of the exercise. The huge score jumps we are seeing with the most recent round of hand-grading far exceed anything we’ve ever seen before. In years past, we’d typically see an ACT essay score of 9 round up to a 10 after hand-grading, and an 11 round up to a 12, whereby the lower of the two graders (scoring on a scale of 1-6) would simply round up to meet the higher grader. When a 24 is effectively equal to a 33, and a 19 is equivalent to a 31, what are college admissions officers to do with these essay scores, besides take them with a grain of salt? This degree of inconsistency renders the scores all but meaningless.
To our knowledge the ACT Inc. has made no effort to explain the significant score changes that have taken place. The score reports simply indicate the new subscores and composite score. Neither the old score (for purposes of comparison) nor the original essay are returned to the student. Without further information, we can only assume that the graders are having trouble consistently applying the new, more complicated scoring rubric.
We anticipate that the new SAT essay will also introduce some initial scoring inconsistency, although perhaps less than what we’ve witnessed with the ACT. Graders on the new SAT will now have to assign up to 12 points to each essay (compared to 6 points on the “old” SAT essays). However, the SAT essay grading may benefit from a narrower focus. On every essay, students will be asked to analyze a provided example of persuasive writing; by contrast, the revised ACT essay invites students to engage in open-ended exploration across a wide variety of contemporary issues. Importantly, the new SAT essay is highly similar to the College Board’s Document Based Question, a staple of AP tests for decades, so veteran College Board graders may already feel quite comfortable with the new SAT essay format. Still, the AP score range of 1 to 5 is much narrower than the range of 6 to 24 on the new SAT essay. We’ll know the early outcomes later this spring when the first round of new SAT scores are released.
Both the ACT and SAT essays, as measures of student readiness for college-level writing, are superior to the essays they replaced. They are more rigorous, involve greater degrees of critical thinking and evaluation of evidence. The assessments are moving in the right direction; we simply need consistent scoring to realize the full benefit of these improved writing exercises.
Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 866-789-PREP (7737) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you’re likely aware, there have been recent changes to both the SAT and the ACT.
The “New” SAT has been changed from the 2400 scale back to a 1600 scale, along with a restructuring of the sections and scoring criteria.
The ACT has also been changed–specifically, the writing/essay portion of the test which is now scored on a scale of 1 to 36 (like the other sections) rather than the previous scale of 1 to 12.
There has been mixed reaction to these changes and many questions have been raised about the impact for students. Some of the biggest flags raised have been questions regarding the changes in scoring and what scores students should expect.
Questions about scoring
With changes to the SAT/ACT can come some scoring “anomalies”, and such was the case for the September 2015 administration of the ACT, in which the scoring on the new essay section was unusually low.
Students who were getting in the low to mid 30’s on the Science, Reading, Math and English sections, were getting essay scores that were significantly lower–in some cases 10 points or more below their other scores.
Students who had been performing much better on prior tests and practice tests questioned these results, and many went so far as to have the essay re-scored. With the first administration of the new SAT recently completed, one can only guess that there might also be scoring issues to be ironed out and addressed there as well.
With this in mind, it might be worth a few minutes to review the processes by which test takers can have their scores checked or verified.
Requesting a re-score
Both SAT and ACT have provisions to have scoring on sections of the test checked or verified, but the specifics differ between these two testing companies. Here is a brief recap of what you need to know to have scores verified, but if you’re considering doing this, you should probably read the fine print from the companies themselves.
ACT test re-score requests
- You can request a rescoring of your ACT in writing, within 3 months of the test date
- You will also need to pay, up front, for the rescoring, but this fee will be refunded if your score does, in fact, change
- You will pay $50 to have the multiple choice rescored and $50 for the writing section
- ACT will respond in 3–5 weeks
- If a scoring error is discovered, your scores will be changed and corrected reports will be released to you and all previous score recipients
* The ACT essay has changed from an optional 30-minute essay to an optional 40-minute writing exercise which requires students to “develop an argument that puts their own perspective in dialogue with others” in response to a contemporary issue.
SAT test re-score requests
- While ACT will re-read and re-score the essay, the College Board will only re-score the essay if it did not scan correctly, thus affecting the readability
- College Board charges $55 per section (multiple choice and essay) for re-scoring, which gets refunded if a scoring error is found
- Your entire answer sheet will be reviewed, and unlike your ACT score–which can only remain unchanged or go up–your SAT score can also go down if other errors are discovered
- Under certain circumstances your score may change but you may not be refunded–for example, if you wrote in pen, which prevented your essay from being properly scanned
Deciding to request a re-score
The question of whether or not to request a re-score will depend on the importance of any potential error and how it may affect your admissions chances.
It’s a bit of a gamble to request it (you may get stuck paying the bill), but if you have solid reason to believe that your test may have been improperly scored, then it may be in your best interest.
The bottom line: If a particular section of your test is far below what you expected or if you inadvertently wrote your answers in the wrong section of the answer sheet, it may be worth the time and money to consider having your test re-scored.