ACT Aspire Fueling Efforts to Deliver Better Quality Instruction

aplusala_carolineBy Caroline Novak, A+ President

Educating children is a complicated endeavor, and an important part of that journey is an annual statewide test. Annual tests provide an important academic checkup for students, parents and communities. Students’ success doesn’t depend on whether they do well or poorly on those standardized tests, and it shouldn’t. That’s based on critical aspects of their life, like their personal determination and the support they get from loved ones. But, high-quality standardized tests like we have in Alabama offer honest feedback about where students stand academically in order to help chart a course forward.

The most recent results of the ACT Aspire test highlight the gains Alabama public school students are making in math, reading and science in almost every tested grade. That was the encouraging news State Superintendent Michael Sentance shared with the State Board of Education in November.

The State Board of Education launched the ACT Aspire in 2014 to measure student achievement honestly in math and reading for third through eighth grades. Tenth grade was added in 2016, and science is now tested in fifth, seventh, and tenth grades. The test measures how well students are progressing toward meeting college readiness benchmarks, indicators used by the well-known ACT college entrance exam taken by every high school junior. Because of this, the ACT Aspire is more difficult than older state-developed standardized tests that expected little from students. Not every student will attend college, but every student deserves honest feedback about whether they’re on track to be ready for college or a career.

We now have three years of test results for Alabama’s students, and positive trends are emerging, while challenges are better defined. The gains students are making reflect the hard work of teachers and students who have risen to the higher expectations for academic performance under Alabama’s rigorous standards and assessments. But, the scores also demonstrate that we are not where we Alabamians want to be. We have much work to do to better prepare students for life after high school, whether they are headed to college or straight into a career.

In order to accelerate progress in teaching and learning, Mr. Sentance and the State Board are charging committees comprised of educators, higher education and business representatives to develop strategic plans for improving math, science and reading education. The committees will likely want to examine strategies used by Alabama’s highest achieving systems – systems and schools making the greatest gains and those outperforming their peers. The same goes for best practices from other states and national research.

Our hope at A+ is the committees’ recommendations result in greater progress toward college and career readiness for more students. A+ serves proudly as a founding member of Alabama G.R.I.T. – Graduate Ready. Impact Tomorrow., a coalition of more than four dozen organizations that has worked statewide since 2012 to ensure all students are held to high standards so they can be prepared for real life after high school, whether they go on to college or straight into a career.

The progress of students in this year’s ACT Aspire results is proof that they can meet higher academic expectations, and that progress is inspiring state leaders to address delivery of higher quality instruction for all students. We hope that inspiration spreads to more local communities as information on school progress is made more transparent.

The public can review results and analysis from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) posted on the website,, or through interactive tools on the State Department of Education’s website, Soon, the State Department of Education will release new data highlighting school results, learning gains, graduation rates and other information of interest to local communities.

Published on November 23, 2016