After years of poor scores, Alabama looks to ditch ACT Aspire test

After only four years, state education officials are ready to change the standardized test taken by Alabama’s public school students.

At the April 26 work session, state superintendent Michael Sentance told board members it was time to “reboot,” and that includes finding a new test provider.

More evidence of plans to dump the test emerged with the state’s release of the 2017-2018 testing calendar. The ACT Aspire is not on it.

Alabama’s students have performed poorly on the tests, with proficiency levels not topping 50 percent in reading since the tests were first given in the spring of 2014. In math, the results have been a bit better. In science, proficiency levels ranged from 23 to 39 percent. 

The ACT Aspire, given to students in grades three through eight and again in tenth grade, was originally touted as the test to help students prepare for college and career, aligned with The ACT college entrance exam (given to all Alabama 11th graders) and the WorkKeys credentialing tests (given to all Alabama 12th graders). 

Alabama’s public school students recently completed the spring 2016 administration of the ACT Aspire. Results are expected as early as July, but state education officials typically don’t release those results to the public until late fall.

State board of education members have been vocal about their dislike for the ACT Aspire. Board member Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, has said repeatedly she wants to get rid of the ACT Aspire. “Because the Aspire is so racially based,” Bell said at the work session, “I just find it absolutely unfathomable that we still even talk about administering the test this year.”

There have been constant complaints from educators that test results didn’t come back quickly enough to allow them to change what they’re teaching. ACT officials promised results back to schools by May 31 this year.

Questions about whether the test is aligned with what students are being taught surfaced as early as 2014, and Sentance has openly questioned whether the ACT Aspire is the right test for Alabama’s students since being appointed last August.

It didn’t help matters when federal education officials in January, as part of a routine review of assessments, asked for evidence of where Alabama officials determined the ACT Aspire was aligned to Alabama’s academic standards.

ACT conducted an alignment study, Sentance said, but Alabama education officials should have conducted their own alignment study. He said there is no evidence the state did so.

Scott Montgomery, an ACT Government relations representative, told board members in March that they are “100 percent confident” that the ACT Aspire aligns with Alabama’s content standards. The problem, he said, is that no independent review was conducted. Montgomery told board members he is in talks with federal education officials to assist Alabama with that assessment review.

“We believe that we are aligned to your content, we do believe the test measures what it is intended…

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