ACT Extends the Boundaries of Educational Technology, Leveraging Iowa City Roots


Imagine being a student in rural Iowa in the early 1900s. Roads were made of dirt. There were 12,000 one-room schoolhouses scattered across the state. Not only were there no computers in classrooms, there were no ballpoint pens.

Born in 1901 in Gowrie, E.F. Lindquist didn’t have to imagine that life. He lived it.

Still, through his imagination, ingenuity, and strength of vision, Lindquist changed education forever.

Lindquist earned a PhD from the University of Iowa in 1927, after which he was hired as a faculty member. By the end of the 1920s he had developed the Iowa Academic Meet, popularly known as the “Brain Derby.” He soon realized the contest could be more than a competition – transforming the event into a new model for educational assessment.

Educators nationwide began adopting the “Iowa Test of Basic Skills” and “Iowa Test of Educational Development.” Answer documents poured into Iowa City – but the local scorers couldn’t keep up.

So, Lindquist invented an “Optical Mark Recognition” scoring machine – patent #3,050,248. Instead of laborious handscoring, the first OMR scanners could process 4,000 documents an hour.

If he weren’t busy enough inventing new tests and technologies, writing seminal books on statistics and educational measurement, and teaching classes, Lindquist also took on the established forces of college admissions. He didn’t believe higher education should be a privilege for the few; instead, he thought any high school student who mastered a quality curriculum deserved the chance to earn a college degree.

Thus, the American College Testing program was born – delivering its first “ACT” tests in 1959.

Today, in the spirit of our founder, ACT continues to extend the boundaries of educational theory, technology, and equity, all while delivering world-class services from K-12 to career in real time.

  • We are a global leader in computational psychometrics, developing new methods for making effective, affordable, and personalized educational opportunities available to all students.
  • We are delivering our college admissions tests online in more than 100 countries worldwide.
  • For under-resourced schools, we are inventing technologies that help bridge the digital divide – and connect all students with the extraordinary learning resources of the modern era.

E.F. Lindquist would be proud.

Today our team members – in our hometown of Iowa City, across the country, and around the world – remain enthusiastic and proud to be weaving the best of learning, measurement, and navigation into a 21st-century tapestry of human potential.