Annual Scores Promote Test-Maker Products

University Testing

Both the College Board and ACT, Inc used this year’s release of scores for seniors in the class of 2002 to market their company’s flagship products. Though average test results rarely vary significantly from one year to the next, the companies took advantage of media interest to promote their latest sales initiatives.


As always, both companies ignored the larger message communicated through their repeated focus on small annual score differences. Stressing miniscule changes continues to encourage admissions and financial aid offices to misuse test results by making eligibility decisions based on whether one additional SAT question was answered correctly.


The College Board’s late August news release suggested that a two point increase in average SAT Math scores combined with a two point decline in Verbal results “demonstrate that a renewed focus on reading, writing, and grammar is needed.” The spin is hardly coincidental: changes in the SAT announced earlier this year will hike the portion of the test devoted to “reading comprehension” items and include a so-called “writing” section (see Examiner, Summer 2002). In case the marketing message was too subtle, the College Board simultaneously announced it was creating The Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges, which doubtlessly will also promote the “new SAT.”


ACT Pitches State Tests — Says “Me Too” on Writing Exam
The ACT news release reporting its annual score data highlighted the company’s role in “bold initiatives,” which required all 11th graders in Colorado and Illinois to take the test as part of mandatory state assessment programs (see Examiner, Fall 2000). One result of testing some 30,000 additional students who had no intention of applying to college is that average ACT scores declined slightly for the first time in more than a decade.


ACT also announced that it would soon offer a “writing component” as part of its college admissions testing package. Unlike the mandatory SAT version, however, ACT’s new exam will be optional. Details about the test’s content have sill not been released. Perhaps in an effort to not appear totally reactive to College Board initiatives, ACT did one-up its bigger competitor in one minor way: its “writing test” will be administered for the first time in fall 2004, six months before the scheduled introduction of the SAT version.


In another example of its heightened interest in marketing, ACT unveiled a new Board of Directors, including such high-profile members as former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan, Education Commission of the States President Ted Sanders, and Roberts Jones, President of the National Alliance of Business.