A new study has found that two of the four main parts of the ACT — science and reading — have “little or no” ability to help colleges predict whether applicants will succeed.
The analysis also found that the other two parts — English and mathematics — are “highly predictive” of college success. But because most colleges rely on the composite ACT score, rather than individual subject scores, the value of the entire exam is questioned by the study.
“By introducing noise that obscures the predictive validity of the ACT exam, the reading and science tests cause students to be inefficiently matched to schools, admitted to schools that may be too demanding — or too easy — for their levels of ability,” says the paper released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here).
ACT officials said that they were still studying the paper, of which they were unaware until Monday. But they defended the value of all parts of the test.
The authors of the paper are Eric P. Bettinger, associate professor of education at Stanford University; Brent J. Evans, a doctoral student in higher education at Stanford; and Devin G. Pope, an assistant professor at the business school of the University of Chicago. At a time when the ACT has grown in popularity such that it has roughly equal market share to the SAT’s, the authors write that misuse of ACT data could hinder efforts to raise college completion rates.
The research is based on a database with information about every student who enrolled at a four-year public university in Ohio in 1999. The authors obtained information about high school and college grades — and found their results consistent for students of different skill levels and for those who enrolled in colleges with different levels of difficulty in winning admission. (For comparative purposes, the authors also used data on students who enrolled in a private Western institution, Brigham Young University, and found the same patterns.)