WASHINGTON - The popular ACT college admissions exam is broadening how it reports students' scores.
The exam's traditional 36-point scale remains unchanged. But, starting next year, students will also receive an ACT score on two new "readiness indicators" reflecting how they did in terms of career readiness and understanding complex text, the nonprofit testing organization announced Friday.
A new category will offer students a separate score on STEM performance - short for science, technology, engineering and math - that combines the science and math portions. A second new category in the area of language arts combines how they did on the English, reading and writing portions - for those who took the writing portion.
The writing portion remains optional for traditional Saturday morning test takers, but the ACT said the writing section is also being modified to make the essay topics more advanced and to require test takers to potentially provide multiple perspectives on a topic, instead of just one view.
The announcement comes three months after the College Board, which operates the competing SAT, announced sweeping changes to that exam that include moving the perfect score back to 1,600, making the essay optional and shifting the vocabulary away from some high-sounding words in favor of those more likely to be used in school or on the job. The changes are expected in 2016.
ACT officials said their changes are much more subtle and not in response to the College Board's announcement. They said the ACT changes are well-researched and have been years in the making.
"We're continuing to polish it, but not rebuild it," Jon Erickson, president of ACT, based in Iowa City, Iowa, said in an interview.
Erickson said he's hopeful that when students get the results and are able to interpret them, "it will be enlightening and, dare I may say, exciting."
The ACT was taken last year by 1.8 million students and overtook the SAT in popularity in 2012. That's in part because of growth in the number of states funding and requiring high school juniors to take the exam during the school day. Four new states - Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi and Wisconsin - recently signed on to do so, bringing to 17 states participating at this level, according to ACT.
Last spring, the ACT said it would begin offering online testing and started piloting it this year.
Also on Friday, the ACT said it would begin making new open-ended questions available to districts in the subject areas of reading, math and science to offer to students as part of the school-day program. Unlike questions with fill-in-the-bubble responses, open-ended questions call for what the ACT describes as a "constructed response" by the student.
And it said it is working to develop language for 2016 that would explain what ACT scores mean as they relate to the Common Core standards being rolled out in most states. The Common Core standards spell out what math and language skills students should master at each grade level.
The ACT said that on June 14, a Saturday, just under 600,000 students are scheduled to take the exam - a record high.