New Summative Assessment Coming to Alabama in Spring 2020

In 2020, Alabama teachers and students will use a new statewide assessment. Last spring and over the summer, the state studied and selected a new – and what we hope will be improved – statewide assessment.

In July, the State Board of Education voted to contract with Data Recognition Corp. (DRC) to create a new summative state test for Alabama.

This was expected, but it may seem like it all happened quickly.

In June, three vendors made their pitch to the Alabama Assessment Task Force. The vendors were DRC, Measurement, Inc., and Scantron. State Superintendent Eric Mackey brought the task force’s recommendation to contract with DRC to the State Board of Education during their July meeting, and it was approved unanimously.

DRC has worked in Alabama before, having administered the Alabama Reading and Math Test and the former High School Graduation Exam. Since 2015, the company has administered the Alabama Alternative Assessment. Around the country, DRC handles summative assessments in 17 states, including Georgia and Louisiana.

DRC promises the new assessment will be fully aligned with what’s taught in Alabama classrooms through the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards, and the company will engage with Alabama educators throughout the process of developing and vetting testing items. Each year, 25% of the test questions will be released back to educators with metrics that explain how many students answered the question correctly. The data also will break down each answer by student demographics.

Like Scantron, the new test will be computer-based and computer adaptive for all students—with exceptions where needed based on students’ special needs. Few states still support “dual-mode” testing that allow for schools to choose between computer-based or paper and pencil tests. The first administration of the new test will be Alabama’s third year of using 100% online testing. The state moved into de facto fully online testing by adopting Scantron for summative accountability purposes.

DRC assures timely returns of scores for students, but with timeliness comes a tradeoff in the types of questions that the tests asked. More open-ended or essay questions that have to be “hand-scored” slow down the grading process. The exact structure of the test, types of questions, numbers of questions, and other specifics will be determined as the test is developed.

The new test will be the first permanent one since the State Board of Education abruptly voted to stop using the ACT Aspire in June 2017 without a replacement identified. That led to many teachers returning to school last August unaware changes had been made. The State Department of Education opted to use Scantron for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years as a stopgap measure until a permanent replacement could be identified and implemented.

In September, Interim State Superintendent Ed Richardson brought in the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment (commonly known as the Center for Assessment) to consult with the Assessment Advisory Committee. That group was made up of teachers, parents and administrators from all over Alabama, and A+ was honored to be included as well.

Over the course of six months, the Committee reviewed research on all facets of standardized testing–from tradeoffs over mode, to the timing of assessments, and the field testing of new questions. Committee members gathered in person and via webinar to discuss their findings, ultimately coming to consensus on what the state of Alabama needed in a new assessment for students beginning in 2020.

The Center for Assessment and the Committee produced a thorough report (accessible here) to summarize this work last spring to help the SBOE decide what it needed to look for with a new assessment. That work helped the ALSDE staff craft the Request for Proposals to vendors over the summer.