From a single assessment that helps students get into college to a broad array of programs and services that prepare people worldwide for success in education and careers, ACT has come into its own over five decades.
While ACTs mission has remained the samehelping people achieve education and workplace successthe organization has radically changed in 50 years. It has grown from six employees in one location to more than 1,200 around the globe who serve individuals, institutions, and organizations in more than 100 countries.
On August 21, 1959, representatives from 16 states met in Iowa City to establish The American College Testing Program. On November 7, 75,460 students in those 16 states took the first ACT® test. More than 132,000 students took the ACT during the first testing year. By 1968, that number had reached almost one million students. Nearly 1.5 million 2009 high school graduates took the test.
ACT was founded at a time of significant change in America. Before World War II, only the elite attended college, and most high school graduates never set foot in an institution of higher learning. College entrance exams had a single purpose: to help colleges select academically outstanding studentsand reject the rest.
The situation began to change after World War II when veterans took advantage of new financial aid programs to attend college and, in the postwar economic boom, millions of men and women pursued higher education. By the mid-1950s, most students continued their education beyond high school.
By 1959, college and university enrollments were double those of just a decade before and were projected to double again by 1970. Faced with more diverse applicants than ever, colleges needed good information for making admission and placement decisions. The American College Testing Program was established to meet these needs.
ACT has launched a college and career planning website as a way to thank the students who have used our programs and services over the past 50 years. The website, www.collegeandcareerready.org, is targeted to young adults, ages 1525, with tools and tips to help in college and career planning.
The original vision for the ACT test can largely be attributed to one man: E.F. Lindquist, a University of Iowa professor, a respected scholar, and an inventor with an entrepreneurial spirit.
As an internationally recognized leader in the field of standardized testing, Lindquist developed the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the Iowa Tests of Educational Development, both of which are still widely used assessments. He also worked with the U.S. Armed Forces and the American Council on Education to develop what today is known as the GED.
Lindquist proposed an exam that would assess broad competencies and encourage students to acquire knowledge and use it in creative ways. Existing tests were designed for use by a privileged class and measured intelligencesomething that couldnt be altered. Lindquists test would be designed for anyone who wanted to go to college and would measure achievementsomething that could be increased through hard work.
Lindquist and Ted McCarrel, UI director of admissions and registrar, started a new organization to develop a new kind of test. They called it The American College Testing Program. McCarrels contacts with college admissions officers around the country helped foster the first group of ACT state coordinators, who were critical to getting the new program off the ground.
UI faculty developed the initial tests, and the university allocated space on campus for a handful of employees. The universitys Measurement Research Center did the scoring of the early tests for ACT, using an optical mark scanning machine invented by Lindquist. The device scored answer sheets automatically, taking one week to perform tasks that had previously taken 60 people nearly six weeks to complete.
In the early 1960s, ACT opened its first office in downtown Iowa City. In 1968, the organization moved into a new building on a campus-like environment in northeast Iowa City, where ACT headquarters remain. Today, ACT operates out of seven buildings and a 300-acre campus, and maintains offices around the United States, a Washington DC office, and six international offices.
ACTs history became one of steadily broadening scope. Here is a look at where the organization has been over five decades and where it is today.
The 1960s focused on expanding the reach of the ACT Assessment. Staff conducted the research needed to make it an excellent tool for placing students in the appropriate freshman-level classes and for providing sound information for academic advisingtwo of Lindquists original goals. ACT added the Student Profile Section in 1964, collecting information about students interests, plans, and accomplishmentsinformation not revealed by test scores. This data helped colleges better understand the makeup and needs of their entering freshmen and provided a foundation for ACTs career planning tools.
The 1970s brought expansion into financial aid services. ACT worked with the U.S. Department of Education to design and develop the nations largest student aid program everthe Basic Education Opportunity Grant (BEOG) program. Though the government has since shifted to online applications that dont require processing by others, the seeds of ACTs work with scholarship organizations were sown in the 70s. The growth of community colleges also led to the development of tools to help these schools place students in appropriate classes. The company also began partnering with professional organizations to provide tools that would help adults achieve workplace success.
During the 1980s, ACT explored the feasibility of creating programs for grades 8 and 10 that would connect with each other and the ACT. The result was a comprehensive assessment system to help students set, plan for, and realize educational and career goals.
In 1983, a groundbreaking report, A Nation at Risk, called for greatly improved education and workforce training, and provided a strong impetus for ACT to expand into workplace assessments.
At the start of the 1990s, the ACT Board of Trustees detailed 10 priorities for the decade, three of which took the organization into relatively uncharted territory:
While significant progress was made in all three, the centerpiece of the decade was the development, introduction, and success of the WorkKeys® system, which was introduced nationally in 1992. In the first two years after launch, 1992 and 1993, ACT administered fewer than 100,000 assessments each year. In fiscal year 2009, nearly 2.3 million WorkKeys assessments were administered.
Throughout the current decade, ACT has continued to expand its involvement in education and workforce development issues nationally and internationally.
The evolution from an organization serving just college admissions to one addressing a very broad range of education and workforce needs called for a change in ACTs governance structure. In 2002, a Board of Directors replaced the Board of Trustees. Today, ACTs Board of Directors includes national leaders from both education and business and is representative of the interests served by ACTs growing array of programs and services.
In 2005, ACT created a new international division. Three groups handle international initiatives: ACT Education Solutions headquartered in Sydney, Australia; ACT Business Solutions headquartered in Madrid, Spain; and international staff in Iowa City.
ACT Education Solutions (AES) helps prepare international students for study at English-speaking universities around the world through the Global Assessment Certificate (GAC) program. The GAC is offered through local partners in 13 countries and is growing particularly rapidly in China, with 50 local teaching centers.
ACT Business Solutions (ABS) helps multinational employers and schools prepare people whose first language is not English to work in English-language settings through the English WorkKeys program. ABS works directly with organizations throughout Spain and has expanded into Italy and France through distribution agreements.
Headquarters staff manages contracts for the use of other ACT programs and services throughout the world, including Spanish-language WorkKeys assessments in Mexico and Honduras. Other initiatives are in the works in China, and several countries are considering adopting an International Career Readiness Certificate.
In 2006, ACT launched the National Career Readiness Certificate programa tool used by thousands of employers nationwide to confirm that applicants and workers have essential employability skills. Several states and national organizations have adopted the National Career Readiness Certificate.
As ACT prepares to enter a new decade, the organization continues to build on the vision set forth 50 years ago.
ACT has planned a series of events to commemorate the organizations 50th anniversary.
ACT sponsored a community event August 21 at the Old Capitol building on The University of Iowa campus. The date and place were fitting: on August 21, 1959, representatives from 16 states met at this building to establish The American College Testing Program. An employee celebration, complete with a picnic, carnival games, rides, and fireworks was held on the ACT campus the following evening.
Various events will be held during ACTs annual corporate meeting in October. ACT will also host a special meeting for policymakers and allied organizations in Washington, DC this fall.
A book and DVD about the history of ACT are also under development.