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Alabama implements statewide assessment solution

State department of education adopts ACT Aspire as part of ambitious plan to ensure college and career readiness

The state of Alabama has made a bold move toward ensuring that all students are college- and career-ready by the time they graduate high school. The state department of education has recently announced implementation of the ACT Aspire assessment system statewide for all students in grades 3-8, as part of a comprehensive effort to overhaul the state’s education system.

In 2012, new state superintendent Tommy Bice announced Plan 2020, a strategic plan for education in Alabama with a goal to prepare all students in the state to be successful in college and/or career upon graduation from high school by the year 2020. The plan includes a variety of initiatives intended to improve student growth and achievement, close the achievement gap and significantly increase the graduation rate statewide. As part of the plan, Bice and the state board of education created an Assessment and Accountability Task Force—which included teachers, parents and administrators—charged with finding a balanced and meaningful assessment solution statewide.

“Historically we had just a graduation exam, which just told students whether or not they met the minimum standards to graduate,” says Rebecca Mims, coordinator of student assessment in the Alabama State Department of Education. “We needed something more comprehensive.” After an 18-month process, including a pilot program with selected state districts, the task force recommended the ACT Aspire assessment system, and the state board of education voted to adopt ACT Aspire in April 2013 for all students in grades 3-8. Anchored by the capstone college readiness assessment, the ACT, ACT Aspire offers assessment solutions for states, districts and schools, including summative, interim and classroom assessments in English, math, science, reading and writing for grades 3-8 and early high school.

Linked to the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks and aligned with the Common Core, ACT Aspire provides reporting capabilities for content areas as well as college and career readiness at the state, district, school and individual student levels. “We wanted to make sure that our courses of study were aligned with the ACT exam,” says Mims. “ACT Aspire can measure student knowledge and identify gaps beginning in third grade, so we can make adjustments long before high school graduation and the ACT. We saw the potential for what this could do for our students.” Besides just identifying knowledge gaps, ACT Aspire also helps educators respond. “ACT Aspire not only tells us where students are, but makes recommendations for what types of activities will help close those gaps,” says Mims. “It shows us how to improve our instructional programs. We think that this will give instructional leaders and teachers an accurate picture of where their students are so they can plan curriculum and address skill gaps.”

Going forward, Mims says Alabama’s education leaders are excited about the future and the potential for this new assessment system to help achieve the ambitious goals set out in Plan 2020. “We are the first state in the nation to be giving the ACT Aspire assessment to all students in grades 3-8,” said Bice at the announcement in April. “This will be a different assessment than we’ve had in the past, because we’re using it strictly for instructional purposes. We’ll be looking at how we can use it most strategically to ensure that the instruction for years to come will prepare our kids for a bright future.”

For more information, go to: www.discoveractaspire.org