New ACT Assessments a Game Changer for Alabama Students

The Alabama State Department of Education held a media briefing April 9th to explain the state’s new student standardized assessment system, which rolls out fully this month in all Alabama schools. Using the full suite of ACT assessment products – which makes Alabama the first in the nation to do so – parents and teachers will now be able to easily track student progress from year to year on their way to college and career readiness.

The most prominent benefits of the new assessment system are:

  • The tests are aligned to Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards, which means they’re rooted in the type of real learning that two- and four-year colleges, business and industry expect from students when they graduate.
  • The assessment tools track an annual trajectory of each student so instruction and focus can be more individualized to help the student reach their highest potential.
  • A more parent-friendly report with a clear understanding of where their students are academically; if they are falling behind, meeting, or exceeding the standards.
  • In many cases less time will be taken away from classroom instruction to take the tests (reducing the former five-day testing schedule to only four hours on average).
  • The results of these tests will be primarily for providing feedback to teachers, eliminating the pressure to “teach to the test,” which was present under No Child Left Behind before Alabama got a waiver to stop using the test-based Adequate Yearly Progress as a measure of success.

“Like never before, teachers will be able to measure students’ mastery of the standards taught, plan intervention and acceleration, and create individualized instruction for students,” said Deputy State Superintendent of Education Sherrill Parris. “Parents, students, and teachers will know by the end of third grade whether each student is on track to be successful upon graduation from high school. This is crucial in terms of individualized instruction, intervention planning, guidance for course selection, career counseling, and college advising.”

Beginning April 28th, Alabama 3rd – 8th graders will take the ACT Aspire exams in reading and math, which only requires an average of two hours.

Additionally, the Alabama High School Graduation Exam is being phased out. Instead, most students will take the ACT Quality Core exams, end-of-course tests (EOCs) for Algebra I and English 10, and in future years these EOCs will expand to other subjects, as is discussed in A+’s policy brief on assessments in Alabama. Seniors will also take the ACT WorkKeys – not as a requirement for graduation, but to help them focus on their next steps after high school.  According to the ALSDE’s news release, ACT WorkKeys is a job skills assessment system using a series of tests measuring “foundational and soft skills and offers specialized assessments to target institutional needs.”

Discussing the new assessments, State Superintendent Tommy Bice cited two concerns: First, the test results, especially in the first year, may be misinterpreted and misused to “rank” schools. He emphasized the need to communicate the test results appropriately as a benchmark measure of individual student achievement. Significantly, the new results should not be compared to previous scores under ARMT or ARMT+.

Dr. Bice’s second concern relates to likely technical glitches in the first round, as most Alabama students will be taking the assessment on computers. To minimize these glitches, Bice noted that ACT has committed their assistance to promptly resolve any technical issues.

“This truly is groundbreaking,” Dr. Bice said during the press briefing. “It gives us for the first time a fully aligned system. In the past, we’ve had the Alabama Reading and Math Test, Alabama Science Assessment and the Alabama Graduation Exam, and all three were independent of each other. This will provide parents with a much clearer picture of their child’s progress.”

Click here for more about the ACT Assessment suite of products.

Click here to view the ALSDE news release.

Click here for a comprehensive look at the new system, on Alabama School Connect.

Click here to read A+’s policy brief from December 2013 that gives more background information on standardized testing in Alabama.