11/10/2014 06:04 pm ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

What Do We Know About the Upcoming Changes to the ACT?

The College Board's recent announcement of the release of a redesigned SAT beginning in 2016 led to widespread coverage in the press. While the SAT will remain a multiple choice exam that tests students' abilities in reading, writing, and mathematics, modifications to the format and content are significant enough that they deserve attention, particularly for students and parents in the class of 2017 who will be the first to take the revised exam (for information about specific changes to the 2016 SAT, please see here.

While much is being made of the 2016 SAT, ACT, inc. -- an SAT competitor that now comprises more than 50 percent of the standardized college entrance exam market -- is quietly making changes, or "enhancements," as the company calls them, to the ACT exam but has been slow to release information about the revisions. However, if you're willing to cut through the jargon and do some very dry reading -- as we did -- it is possible to glean meaningful hard facts. As of November 2014, here is what we know:

In the spring of 2013 ACT, inc. announced the following content changes:

(1) the addition of questions to the Reading test that "involve integration of knowledge and ideas across multiple texts." Presumably, this means the inclusion of a set of "SAT style" paired passages, though it is impossible to be sure without additional information and (2) the addition of a higher number of statistics/probability questions on the Math test.

It is not presently clear what form these changes will take and when they will be instituted on a national level on the ACT exam (although in the spring of 2013 there was at least one administration of the ACT exam that included a set of paired reading passages).

In the spring of 2013, ACT, inc. also announced the following format changes:

(1) the option of computer-based testing with constructed-response (i.e., non-multiple choice) questions.

In 2015 and 2016 these new format options will be available only in states and districts that consent to administer the ACT exam on a school day as part of State and District Testing, which, at the present time, does not include New York. ACT, inc. will eventually consider expanding these options nationally to states that permit similar school day testing. In any case, it appears that the seeds of a movement toward computer-based testing and constructed-response questions have been planted.

In June 2014, ACT, inc. announced the following content and scoring changes:

(1) the inclusion of an Enhanced Writing Test that will measure students' ability to evaluate multiple perspectives on a complex issue using reasoning, knowledge, and experience and (2) there will be new Writing scores, which will be based on four areas of writing competency: ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use. Even with the new more comprehensive Enhanced Writing Test, the Writing score will continue to have no effect on the overall ACT composite score. A sample question from the Enhanced Writing Test was released in mid-October 2014 and can be found here.

In June 2014, ACT, inc. announced the following new categories of "Readiness Indicators":

(1) the STEM (acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Score indicator, which will measure readiness for performance on the Science and Math sections of the ACT exam; (2) the Progress Towards Career Readiness Indicator (any career), which will help students understand their progress towards career readiness; (3) the English Language Arts Score, which measures performance on the English, Reading, and Writing sections of the ACT exam; and (4) the Text Complexity Indicator, which measures how well students are doing at understanding complex texts.

These will be added to the score reports starting in fall 2015. In addition, there are new score reporting categories, which will be similar to the current sub-scores but more of them. They will be available on a national level in fall 2016. But more importantly, the 1-36 scoring scale for the ACT exam will not change; the new readiness indicators and reporting categories will merely provide more information about students' progress in specific areas and indications for future areas of improvement.

In the 2014-15 school year, the ACT Aspire exam will replace the ACT Plan exam (both are designed, as the PSAT is to the SAT, to indicate future performance on the ACT exam). Changes in the digital version of the ACT Aspire include technology-assisted and constructed-response questions. Since students in New York City will most probably not be taking the ACT digitally for several years, it is more practical for them to take the paper version of the ACT Aspire if they are taking the paper version of the ACT. In the most recent announcements by ACT, inc, there is no indication that the content of the paper version of the ACT Aspire will be different from that of the ACT Plan and, at this time, administrators at ACT, inc. will not comment on comparisons between the two exams. The ACT Aspire will be scored on a three-digit scale but with an equivalency on the ACT 's 1-36 scale.