Put down your pencils; the ACT is going digital.
The nonprofit assessment and analytics organization – also called ACT – announced last week that it will take its flagship test online in 2015.
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Students shouldn't toss their bubbled answer sheets just yet, though. ACT will pilot the online delivery in select high schools before making it available for all test takers, says Jon Erickson, president of the organization's education division.
"Don't panic," Erickson says. "We're moving slowly, but rapidly."
Paper exams will still be available for students who prefer the traditional format for now, but the goal is for the ACT to eventually be 100 percent digital, he says.
Almost 1.7 million high school students took the ACT in 2012. Nearly the same number of students opted to take the SAT, a college entrance exam administered by the College Board. Both exams aim to gauge a student's college and career readiness in reading, math and writing. ACT's test also includes a science section.
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Kentucky's Department of Education shut down online end-of-course exams administered by ACT earlier this month when capacity issues with the testing system caused technical problems.
Wyoming had widespread issues with online exams in 2010 – largely because of a lack of technical infrastructure – before reverting back to paper exams. Those tests were delivered by Pearson, an educational company that ACT partnered with last year to develop a series of "next generation" assessments.
Indiana and Oklahoma also dealt with online testing-induced headaches this spring thanks to computer glitches and bogged-down Internet connections, and a host of other states have experienced similar issues in years past with a number of testing providers.
Paper-and-pencil exams come with risks, too, Erickson says. Test forms can be lost, damaged or even filled out incorrectly.
Parents should consider these hazards as well as their teen's digital comfort level when deciding between online or on-paper exams, he says.
Online delivery could add to testing anxiety for students with limited access to technology outside of the classroom. On the other hand, it could soothe the nerves of digitally savvy students who excel in the interactive environment, experts say.
Parents and students can rest assured that ACT won't move forward with the new format before test makers and test takers are ready, Erickson says, adding that this is not the organization's first attempt at online testing.
"We've been doing computer adaptive testing for decades," he says. "We're good at this."
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