ACT Online Testing Goes Nationwide

The ACT, Inc. is taking another (small) step in the shift toward digital testing. Starting in September, states and school districts that have contracted ACT testing will have the option to administer the test in a purely digital format. The ACT, Inc. has released the following dates for states and districts participating in school-day testing:

Paper Test Date Online Testing Window
September 27, 2016 September 27, 2016–October 11, 2016
February 28, 2017 February 28, 2017–March 14, 2017
April 19, 2017 April 19, 2017–May 3, 2017


Under this schedule, states and districts will have the option of administering paper ACT tests on September 27, February 28 or April 19, or they will have a two-week window following each of those test dates in which to administer online ACTs to their students.

Will this new option usher in a rapid shift to online testing?  Probably not.  We think this change is significant – an incremental step toward the digital future of assessments – but we don’t anticipate any major shifts to online testing, at least in the first year. Currently, seventeen states and many other districts across the country have secured contracts with the ACT.  However, after the many technical issues which plagued ACT, Inc.’s rollout of its digital ASPIRE product, many of these states and districts may remain in a “wait and see” mode.  The paper product is the surely the more conservative option.

Online ACT testing remains in its infancy, and the early online ACTs will simply be digital facsimiles of the paper tests.  Students will not bubble in answers; they will click radio buttons.  Writing an essay using a computer may be the only real advantage for students habituated to composing digitally.

In time the online ACT will deviate greatly from the test in its current paper form.  We’ve witnessed testing improvements on the online GRE, GMAT, PARCC and other assessments.  By migrating away from multiple choice to more complex forms of assessing knowledge, test writers gain greater insights into what students actually know, rather than how skillfully they can discriminate a correct answer from four provided choices.  The future of assessment is digital, interactive and highly engaging.  Until the broad adoption of dynamic, digital assessments, we’ll continue to prep students for the time-honored bubble sheets that have dominated national testing for nearly a century.


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