ACT tests the waters at 50


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Half of a century ago, two UI faculty left their lasting mark on the world: a series of lead-filled ovals with no stray markings.

The ACT test celebrated its 50th year this past weekend; its first test was administered on Nov. 7, 1959. This year, more than 1 million students took the ACT in 50 U.S. states and 120 countries.

But the standardized test has a far more local connection.

A group of UI employees first organized ACT in the Old Capitol in August 1959, where an exhibit now stands to commemorate the event.

E.F. Lindquist, a UI professor of education, and Ted McCarrell, the UI’s dean of admissions and a registrar, founded the revolutionary exam.

“Anytime you think of the UI, you are surrounded by brilliant people,” said Elyse Bauserman, a UI junior in the nursing program, about the achievement. “It makes you aware of how important the UI is.”

Headquarters for ACT Inc., originally located in Seashore Hall, remain in Iowa City, now occupying numerous buildings in a campus off North Dodge Street.

“Iowa’s educational testing and measurement program is one of the strongest in the world,” said Rose Rennekamp, the vice president of communications for ACT, who earned an M.B.A. at the UI. “A large number of our employees are UI graduates.”

And that relationship has proven beneficial for the university.

ACT Inc. recently announced a $5 million endowment gift to the UI’s ACT Scholars Program to fund recruitment of students underrepresented in the UI and Iowa City communities. UI students involved in the program can pursue graduate degrees while working at ACT.

The ACT has undertaken a few makeovers since its inception, adding a science section and condensing the reading section in 1989 and creating an optional essay in 2005.

Today, however, ACT officials are focused on such tests as the Explore and Plan exams for eighth- and 10th-graders. These tests are increasingly popular because more entry-level jobs require college education, Rennekamp said.

“Ideally, no one should have to take remedial classes at a university,” she said. “So it helps if teachers and parents can identify those needs before students get to college.”

The ACT has grown exponentially from 75,000 students in 1959 to roughly 1.5 million in the 2009 high-school graduating class.

“It was something you had to do,” Bauserman said about taking the ACT. “It is a pretty good, cost-effective way to determine whether you are college-bound.”

In Iowa, the average test score for high-school graduates is 22.4, the second highest in the nation and 1.3 points above the national average. This year, the UI average was 25.4 for incoming freshmen.

However, some students have reservations about universities using the ACT for admissions.

“It is a fair representation of ability, but I don’t think it is a good representation of success,” UI junior Elliot Cook said. The test is more representative of high schools and the prep and AP classes they teach, he said.

ACT officials said they recognized the test’s limits but say it provides an objective way to measure knowledge.

“There are no teacher’s pets in a standardized test,” Rennekamp said.

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