Look Who Says Test Coaches Can Help

ACT has raised some eyebrows by announcing a new program -- for which participants must pay -- to train those who tutor test takers.

May 14, 2018
 

For many years, standardized test providers such as the College Board and ACT said that coaching for their exams did not work. The assertion was important because critics of standardized testing have long pointed to the advantage of wealthy students in being able to pay for tutoring.

In recent years, however, the testing companies' position has evolved to acknowledge to various degrees that coaching and tutoring can help. In 2015, for example, the College Board announced a new free program with the Khan Academy, which is highly regarded for its online education materials, to help students prepare for the SAT and other tests. College Board officials were frank about wanting to minimize the advantage that had gone to those who could afford to pay for tutoring. ACT has also offered resources to help low-income test takers.

But ACT has also continued to argue that coaching has only a minimal impact on test scores. Just last year, Wayne Camara of ACT (and formerly of the College Board) published an article in which he said that "the research clearly suggests that short-term test prep activities, while they may be helpful, do not produce large increases in college admission test scores." Camara also noted that retesting -- rather than tutoring -- may be responsible for any gains in test scores. And he noted the economic advantages generally enjoyed by those who hire tutors.

So when ACT started promoting a program in which tutors could be certified and paid for training, eyebrows were raised. The program, with versions for the United States and China, is described here.

Admissions officers posted complaints on social media, as did those from private test-prep companies who have long been frustrated by ACT and the College Board minimizing the role of coaching.

Consider these tweets from Adam Ingersoll of Compass Education Group (which does test-prep work).

A spokesman for ACT, asked about the criticism, issued a statement.

"ACT has always emphasized, first and foremost, the importance of academic skill development through rigorous course-taking as the best preparation for the ACT. We maintain that short-term coaching is not a substitute for long-term learning. Research has been inconclusive about the positive impact of coaching on ACT scores, so we have always cautioned individuals about the impact of short-term test prep activities on ACT performance," the statement said.

"That is not to say, however, that test preparation cannot be helpful. ACT has for many years offered our own free and low-cost test prep materials to assist students in their preparation for the ACT. Recognizing the growing market for test preparation programs, we are currently beta testing a reasonably priced certification program designed to help assure families that the test prep providers they choose truly understand the content and format of the ACT."

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