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ACT Selected to Develop Framework For New National Writing Test

ACT Selected to Develop Framework For New National Writing Test

ACT Inc., best known for the exam it gives each year to thousands of college hopefuls, has agreed to help revise a test used to measure the writing skills of public school students nationwide.

The Iowa City-based testing company has been hired by the National Assessment Governing Board to redesign the writing assessment given to students in grades 4, 8 and 12, company officials say.

The writing test is one of several given annually as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. The congressionally mandated survey tests in reading, math, science and writing were first given in 1969 and designed to track and evaluate academic achievement in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools.

Under terms of the 18-month, $1.4 million contract, ACT will seek advice from college educators, employers, military officials, focus groups and other resources to develop the framework for the new writing test. ACT researchers will also consider writing standards required in states, foreign countries and the writing samples now part of the college entrance exams offered by ACT and its competitor, SAT.

“We’ll be trying to find out what kinds of writing are deemed important for a variety of uses” after graduation, says Cathy Welch, supervisor of ACT’s development division. “One of the emphases for the next version of the test is how to assess if students are really ready for college, employment or [the] military, at least that’s a new emphasis on the 12th-grade test.”

The NAGB is an independent, bipartisan group made up of political leaders, educators and employers, including Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. The board was created by Congress in 1988 to set policy for the NAEP.
The framework for the current version of the two-part, 50-minute writing test was adopted by the NAGB in 1990 and updated in 1995. The goal is to begin offering the new writing test in 2011.

“There are no preconceived notions about what it should look like,” says Mary Crovo, assistant director for test development at NAGB. “Some of the things it might focus on, for example, are what should 12th-graders know or be able to write to prepare them for college.”

The review will also extend beyond content. Research will consider whether tests should remain hand-written or done on computer; if essays should be timed; or if part of the test should include multiple-choice questions to measure grammar and other skills, Crovo says.
“We also need to look at expectations of what other English-speaking countries demand from students in writing,” she adds. “We want to cast a very broad net because we want as many perspectives as possible represented in the assessment.”

As part of its research, ACT will hold a series of forums to collect ideas from writing experts, teachers, academic researchers and parents. ACT is expected to submit its recommendations to the board in 2007.

— Associated Press

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