ACT offers alternative to the SAT

Posted: September 12, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Students in the area who took the ACT exam in 2013 show scores that are on par with those at the state level.

However, school officials say the number of local test takers — 249 students out of more than 19,000 in the three divisions — is too low to make significant conclusions.

“There’s not enough kids in the sample to draw generalities of the preparedness of these kids for college,” said Peter Vernimb, assistant superintendent for instruction in Frederick County.

The ACT, originally an abbreviation of American College Testing, is a national college admissions exam that consists of curriculum-based tests on English, math, reading and science. The test includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete. The highest score possible is 36.

The ACT is one of two standardized tests, along with the SAT, that students take to get into college.

In Virginia, 22,165 students out of about 1.26 million took the ACT in 2013.

The ACT is primarily used in admissions in the central and southeast U.S. and the Midwestern states, but recently the test has become popular with East Coast institutions, where the SAT has always been the primary college admissions test.

ACT results are accepted by all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S.

For the first time in 2011, more students nationwide took the ACT than the SAT.

Area school officials say they encourage students to give the ACT a try, especially if they don’t perform well on the SAT.

“That’s how we present it to kids,” said Vaughan Kusko, lead counselor at Handley High School. “It’s another option.”

Kusko said the ACT is “closer to what students experience in school,” which might make them feel more comfortable taking the test.

In Winchester, the 49 students who took the ACT scored, on average, higher than the state average in every category. The division’s total composite score was 23.1 — compared to the state composite score of 22.6.

The division’s composite score last year was 21.2.

“I think the gains are probably reflective of the hard work of our students and teachers,” Kusko said.

In Frederick County, the 154 students who took the ACT scored the same or higher than the state averages in reading and science. The division’s composite score was 22.4, compared to 22.1 in 2012.

“It’s not real reflective of the total population,” Vernimb said. “So I really can’t read much into the results.”

In Clarke County, 46 students took the test. Students scored, on average, lower than the state average in all four subjects. The division’s composite score was 21.1, compared to 23.2 in 2012.

Lisa Floyd, director of curriculum and instruction, said although the sample size is small, school officials will talk with teachers to find out why the scores dropped from last year and why they are lower than the state’s.

“We need to talk to teachers on how to improve that,” she said.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at