ACT Responds To Findings of Fordham Institute Study on Next Generation Assessments

ACT representatives have reviewed the Thomas B. Fordham Institute report, Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments. We acknowledge the importance of this research, which sought to evaluate the tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the dedicated work that went into the analyses. We also appreciate the authors’ admission of the study’s limitations, namely that no single study could come close to evaluating all of the assessment products in use and under development in today’s testing marketplace.

ACT is pleased with the very positive findings regarding the quality of our assessment items, the depth of knowledge assessed and the accessibility of ACT Aspire assessments. We take great pride in the quality of our work, and this report confirms that quality.

The finding that ACT Aspire assessments adequately assess many but not all of the priority content reflected in the Common Core standards is not surprising. Unlike other assessments included in the study, ACT Aspire is not and was never intended to measure all of the CCSS. Rather, ACT Aspire is designed to measure the skills and knowledge most important in preparing students for college and career readiness. This is a significant philosophical and design difference between ACT Aspire and other next generation assessments. ACT has made the choices we have to align with college and career readiness standards, rather than specifically to the Common Core, and we intend to keep it that way.

Many students, parents, educators and policymakers, along with President Obama, have expressed concern that students today are “overtested,” taking more tests—and spending more time doing so—than is necessary. ACT not only shares that concern, but we are also committed to doing something about it. While we believe strongly in the value of assessment as a tool in the educational process, we believe that instructional time is golden.

This is why we strived to keep testing time to a minimum when we designed ACT Aspire. Through our extensive research and validation process, we have ensured that ACT Aspire assessments cover all of the skills that matter most to success in the first year of college. Where ACT Aspire is not fully aligned to the CCSS is where we have no empirical validation of the importance of those skills to college and career readiness.

This focus has allowed us to keep testing time for ACT Aspire significantly lower than other next generation assessments while still providing the necessary information to help students get and stay on track for college and career readiness. The total testing time for ACT Aspire assessments is approximately four hours or less for each grade level—as little as half that of competing assessment systems.

At the same time, ACT has taken the Fordham Institute study findings seriously and has already undertaken action to improve ACT Aspire. In the spirit of continuous improvement, ACT had already identified areas for change through our own internal analysis and has made design adjustments that will improve ACT Aspire in 2015-2016. And we are planning changes to several key elements for which the Fordham Institute study found limited alignment of ACT Aspire assessments with the CCSS in writing, reading and mathematics. Those changes, listed in Appendix G of the report, include:

  • Exploring updated designs that would supplement the current items with tasks that measure “writing to sources” tasks in writing.
    Increasing the percentage of upper-level Depth of Knowledge (DOK) items in reading.
    Adding new technology-enhanced item designs that emphasize selecting evidence directly from the passage to support claims and interpretations in reading.
    Applying our research to make high quality math items of all types and looking to expand what is possible in directions that involve technology in math.
    Working to increase in the number of items focused on the major work of the grade and gathering data to understand the balance in terms of promoting college and career readiness in math.
    Increasing the number of items at grade 8 that assess standards at DOK 1 in math.
    ACT respects the work and focus of the Fordham Institute in the crucial area of educational assessment. We are ready and eager to help our current and growing list of school, district and state customers improve educational outcomes for young people across the educational system and throughout the country.

Quote from ACT Chief Executive Officer Marten Roorda:

“ACT is not surprised by the finding that ACT Aspire did not assess all of the Common Core standards, as that’s not what the system was created to do. ACT Aspire is designed to cover the essential skills needed for success in college and career. That focus allows us to keep testing time to a minimum. We are delighted that ACT Aspire received excellent ratings in technical quality, depth of coverage and accessibility in the Fordham Institute study.”

Quote from Alabama State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice:

“In Alabama, we choose ACT because it was aligned to our Alabama College- and Career-Ready Standards, reflected what we believe to be the skills aligned with those standards and deemed essential for college- and career-readiness, while limiting testing time and giving students more class time. We felt that was the right approach for the students of Alabama.”