In June 2017, the Alabama State Board of Education voted to cancel its contract with ACT for the administration of the ACT Aspire, a suite of standardized tests which, for the past four years, has served as the primary assessment tool Alabama used to gauge the annual academic progress of public school students across the state. Identifying the best replacement for Aspire is crucial. It’s a decision that affects everyone who cares about the quality of public education, from students, teachers, and parents to the leaders of government, education, and business.
PARCA’s latest report, Student Achievement Matters: The Future of Student Assessment Is Now, lays out the recent history of assessments, what state and national assessments tell us about the performance of Alabama students, and calls attention to the steps we should take from here.
It is vital that Alabama have an honest, rigorous, enduring test if students, parents, teachers, education leaders, and the state as a whole are going to have a realistic picture of Alabama’s educational system and an effective tool for gauging progress. An annual assessment of student achievement is required by federal law. State education leaders have indicated they will use an assessment provided by a different testing company, Scantron, in 2018.
Meanwhile, a process for determining a long-term replacement has begun. These decisions on the future of Alabama’s statewide assessments are critical. These assessments are a cornerstone of the state’s education accountability system. They are required by federal law. The assessments should tell us how students, schools, and systems are performing regarding state standards and in comparison to other peers, both in Alabama and in the nation at large.
The new report, commissioned by the Business Education Alliance and prepared with policy expertise from A+ Education Partnership, describes what the state should be looking for in a new assessment system and the process that should be in place for its selection.
A comprehensive system of high-quality student assessments should be an efficient system and produce the necessary information with the least amount of assessment. Student assessments are used to make vital decisions about instruction, interventions and support, advanced educational opportunities, and policies. High-quality, standardized student assessments are essential for evaluating equity among schools and within them.
Most importantly, assessments should be a tool for the growth of individual students, a true measure of strengths and weakness, and a real-world appraisal of a student’s position on the path to college and career readiness. In the globally competitive, technologically advanced economy of the 21st century, it is imperative that our graduates receive an education equal in quality to that received by students in other states. That is the only way our graduates can succeed, and our state can attract employers looking for qualified employees.
The decisions that will have to be made on the future of assessments in Alabama must be made with broad engagement and buy-in from the educational community, its citizenry, and the state’s political and business leadership. Student achievement matters to us all.