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ACT’s Rocky International Rollout

Migrating tens of thousands of students across the globe to a digital testing format was never going to be easy. The ACT, Inc. knew this when they opted to roll out their digital migration overseas before bringing this change to the domestic market. There are so many things that can go wrong, across countries with different levels of technological infrastructure, capital and resources. The transition to digital testing has not been without its hiccups, and many international students have grappled with significant stresses and challenges. Some international students have been forced into the test-optional pathway, unable to complete their required testing in the allotted window for admissions.

There were problems leading up to the first international computer-based ACT in September, with dozens of test-centers unprepared to offer the new test format , in many cases giving minimal notice to students and creating a good bit of chaos in the process. Other students struggled with their registrations or had problems receiving their promised accommodations, having them carry over from paper-based test administrations. 

Numerous independent educational consultants have shared stories of their students’ struggles with these computer-based tests. One Jakarta-based consultant, Carolyn Tiemann, described multiple aborted testing administrations for her students with computers freezing, systems crashing, and tests being erased. Other consultants based in Greece and in Spain shared stories of student challenges and fiascos, leading students to wholesale abandon their testing plans.

These incidents are not unexpected. Shifting from paper to digital is a challenging albeit necessary process. There is less of a PR nightmare when these problems take place overseas, far from the massive and more reactive domestic market. When the ACT, Inc. initially shifted the domestic market from its paper-based PLAN and EXPLORE tests to its digital ASPIRE tests, problems abounded, systems were not ready, reporting was highly problematic, and administrators across the country were very upset. The ACT’s 16 statewide PLAN and EXPLORE contracts collapsed, leaving only Alabama requiring the digital ASPIRE. Similarly, when the Common App overhauled its computer-based system, leading to chaos, stress and confusion, the howls of protests were shrill. Soon after, the Coalition App came into being.

The Silicon Valley mantra “Move Fast and Break Things” doesn’t work so well in higher education. A better slogan would be: go cautiously and deliberately and fix things before you introduce them on a large scale. 

After the ACT, Inc., fixes the issues with the digital ACT, and eventually migrates the computer-based test format to a far more secure computer adaptive test, it will bring this product to the US market on a large scale. There is simply no other way to return testing to a higher level of security without moving away from recycled paper-test forms. As we learned in September with the ACT security breach, paper-tests are a liability even in the US market. Some students will suffer as the ACT works out the kinks, but the digital future is the only pathway forward for these educational assessments.


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