ACT Research Explains New ACT Test Writing Scores and Their Relationship to Other Test Scores

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1 ACT Research Explains New ACT Test Writing Scores and Their Relationship to Other Test Scores Wayne J. Camara, Dongmei Li, Deborah J. Harris, Benjamin Andrews, Qing Yi, and Yong He

5 Another way to look at this issue is to determine what score would represent the same percentile across ACT scores. Table 3 illustrates that significant difference in scores often represents the same percentile in the normative samples. For example, the 95th percentiles are set at a score of 32 in English, 30 in science and 27 in writing. Table 3 also illustrates the danger of assuming the same scale score represents the same rank order or performance level across different scores. For example, students need a score of 32 on ACT English to be at the 95th percentile, but a lower score of 30 on the ACT Composite, or 27 on ACT writing places them in the exact same percentile or rank order. A casual observer may assume that a student who received a score of 32 on ACT English, ACT Composite, and ACT writing demonstrated consistent performance, but that would be incorrect. Rather, a score of 32 across those three tests would represent significantly higher performance in comparison to peers in ACT writing, followed by ACT Composite. The correct interpretation would be that a score of 32 on ACT math is equivalent to scores of 30 and 27 on ACT Composite and ACT writing, respectively, in terms of percentiles and rank order. There is a 5-point difference between the ACT English and ACT writing test scores that result in the same percentile rank. Comparisons of ACT scores across different tests should not be made on the basis of the actual score but on the basis of the percentile associated with that score. This has always been true and is evident in comparisons of English with reading or math with science as well. This is not unique to the ACT, but can be found on virtually any test which uses the same score scale across different subjects or domains, including state assessments and other achievement or admissions tests. Table 3. Differences in ACT Scores at the Same Percentile 8 Percentile English Math Reading Science Composite ELA Writing 95th percentile 80th percentile 60th percentile 50th percentile 35th percentile 20th percentile Why does this occur? There are a number of reasons why different scores (e.g., English, math, writing) represent different percentile ranks. First, subject tests are primarily designed to maintain score comparability across the various forms and administrations not across subjects. That is, scores on the ACT math test or any ACT subject tests are equated so that they retain the same meaning whether a student tested in October of 2015 or June of Tests are not designed to ensure 8 The reported percentiles are based on a three-year rolling average across ACT test takers. However, because the writing test and ELA scores were introduced in September 2015, those norms were based on a special study conducted with 3,196 test takers in spring See for details about the norms. 5

11 Figure 1b. Writing, Composite, and ELA scale score distribution from the September and October 2015 administrations Figure 2a. Distribution of the difference between writing and English, reading, or ACT Composite scores 11

12 ACT Research Explains New ACT Test Writing Scores and Their Relationship to Other Test Scores Figure 2b. September and October 2015 writing mean of the average of all four domain scores compared with the old ACT writing mean scale scores conditioned on the English scale score 12

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