ACT to start giving tests digitally

WASHINGTON (AP) — Goodbye, No. 2 pencils. Hello, iPads.

Starting as early as spring 2015, the ACT

college admissions exam will go digital, reflecting students' tech savvy

and the

demand for quicker results. The tests will still have the familiar

multiple-choice options for college hopefuls but they will

also expand to include interactive portions, such as a simulated

science lab for students to conduct experiments or space

for students to explain concepts in their own words.

"The days of paper-and-pencil admission testing are changing," Jon Erickson, president of ACT's education division, said during

an interview ahead of the company's announcement this week that it would shift to iPads, laptops and desktop computers and

away from the familiar optical scan bubble sheets.

"We're attempting to meet students where they are today," he said.

Several states already use computers for statewide tests, and Iowa-based ACT works with 22 of them, from Alaska to Florida.

But testing in Kentucky was suspended last week after ACT officials discovered glitches.

Problems with other vendors forced Indiana, Minnesota and Oklahoma to delay their high-stakes testing.

In part, that is why ACT is not rushing to start online offerings for the tests, which help determine, in part, if applicants

get into their chosen schools and what scholarships they receive.

ACT officials stress that the traditional, 215-question fill-in-the-bubble tests still would be available for those who prefer

the paper-and-No. 2 pencil option.

"Access and comfort level of students will

continue to be on the top of our mind," Erickson said. "We don't want to

measure

a student's computer skills or fears. The most important part will

be measuring their learning in school and college readiness

standards."

The new testing format — still two years

away and optional even then — comes as 45 states and the District of

Columbia align

their classrooms with Common Core standards, which stress

students' reasoning skills over rote memorization. The ACT, which

is designed to test students' high school learning, naturally

follows the shift in classroom instruction.

"Hopefully, this will be more relevant than just sitting down and taking a fill-in-the-bubble test," Erickson said.

The tests will still have the familiar sections to measure students' English, math, reading and science understanding, as

well as the optional writing section that some colleges require.

"It will look like an ACT in many ways. Some

of it will be multiple choice," Erickson said. "There will be some

areas where

students will manipulate and write. One item that we've been

playing with is in a science experiment where students pour liquids

from one beaker into another. ... They will work through an

experiment from start to finish."

Erickson acknowledged several details have

yet to be finalized. For instance, will students' scores be

interchangeable and

comparable whether they take the tests on an iPad or with a

pencil? Will the tests have difference scales based on the format?

Will students be able to bring their own iPads with them? What

about testing sites that don't have enough devices for all

students? And how can test proctors be sure no one is cheating on

devices loaded with the Internet, email and all varieties

of applications?

"We've been working on this for a number of years. We'll be continuing some field tests," Erickson said.

The digital option will also help ease students' impatience.

The ACT advises students to expect their results in four to six weeks, but their scores typically arrive in about two weeks.

With the shift to digital testing, the results could come within minutes of students clicking the "submit" button on their

device, although company officials say some delay to verify and record the scores is likely.

In 2012, almost 1.7 million students took

the ACT, which is one of two dominant tests high school students take as

part of

their college applications. Roughly the same number took rival

SAT. Those exams are still administered with pencil and paper.