Interesting Times in the Assessment World…Explore, Plan, ACT Aspire and Smarter Balanced's picture

ACT recently sent out an email giving schools that have been using the Explore and Plan tests a heads up that they will be phasing them out. Keep in mind that Explore and Plan are essentially being replaced with ACT’s new assessments that are part of the ACT Aspire continuum that offers summative testing in grades 3-10 with the ACT at 11. If you have been giving Explore in 7th and 8th—you can replace these with Aspire 7 and Aspire 8. If you have been giving Plan in 9th and 10th you can replace these with Aspire 9 and Aspire 10. John Carroll from ACT recently conducted a number of ACT Aspire presentations around the state explaining this migration. If you missed the presentation there are links to his PowerPoint and the rest of his presentation material at the end of this article.

Many of you have called the office to ask my opinion on transitioning to ACT Aspire…Should you do it now and get the price break? How will your Explore and Plan scores from last year translate to Aspire? Will we like Aspire as much as we like Explore and Plan? Is there any chance that ACT Aspire will become our State assessment (replacing MEAP and SBAC)?

Unfortunately none of these questions come with an easy, answer. So let me take a few steps back to widen the lens and the context. As you may recall, the Michigan House and Senate both passed a resolution that permitted MDE to move forward with supporting schools on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The resolution also requires MDE to provide a report to the legislature by December 1 with recommendations for an assessment tool. The resolution suggested that the tool should: be computer adaptive, provide real-time results, be given twice a year and assist with the evaluation of individual teachers. Keep in mind this was a resolution—not legislation and that the suggestions about the state assessment are non-binding. Also understand that there is confusion among legislators about the difference between computer adaptive vs. computer based testing.

So, where does this leave us with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)? Simply put, that is yet to be determined. In speaking with legislators it is clear that there is a great deal of concern about Michigan students being included in a large assessment consortium such as SBAC. It has also become clear that there is a great deal of support and confidence in ACT. Finally, current law still requires that our 11th grade assessment include a college entrance exam.

What is clear is that the question of student assessment in Michigan is still very much up in the air. With this being said, doesn’t it make sense to align our assessments 3-10 to our 11th grade test? Wouldn’t it be nice to have the same quality of reporting across the grade levels? Don’t we all want to get a sense of each student’s progress toward career and college readiness over time as well as their attainment of CCSS?

What are the concerns that some people have?

  1. There are folks who will argue that ACT Aspire is not aligned to the Common Core.
    To refute this ACT has a crosswalk document to the CCSS on their website. ACT is also having a 3rd party validation study conducted on this point that is due to be complete by January 2014. ACT has stated that each test question will show alignment to both the CCSS and ACT’s college readiness benchmarks. ACT is committed to keeping the assessments at a reasonable length—this being said, not every single standard will be measured.
  2. How does Aspire compare to NWEA?
    In my mind assessments like NWEA and Discovery Ed have their greatest impact as interim assessments. They are able to inform progress and can be part of an assessment system—along with a summative such as ACT Aspire. However, ACT Aspire will also have both interim (that could be given up to 4 times per year) and formative (classroom level item banks) assessments in the near future. (See slide 17 in John's PowerPoint)
  3. We will no longer get to keep the test booklets (as we did with Explore and Plan).
    Now that Aspire has become high stakes there is a greater need for test security making it no longer possible to have exact items. However, ACT has committed to providing more detailed information than the “strand” identification that we currently get from the MEAP. Reports will include identification of the CCSS, the ACT college readiness standard measured by the question AND a sample question that is similar to what the students were asked on the assessment. (Slides 33-39 of John's PowerPoint give more detail about the available reports)
  4. If we make this transition from Explore and Plan to ACT Aspire 8,9,10 how will the scores correlate?
    There are 2 digit scores for Explore and Plan and there will be 3 digit scores for ACT Aspire. ACT will provide concordance tables, however they will not load in historic Explore and Plan scores into the online reporting system.
  5. If we participate in the SBAC pilot or are working with SBAC sample items are we wasting our time?
    No, not at all. Online testing is in our future. Helping students and teachers to prepare for the change is good…regardless of which assessment may be selected. ACT Aspire does offer computer based testing with constructed response. (See slide 26 along with the science and reading exemplar videos)
  6. If ACT is a non-profit, why is ACT Aspire an LLC?
    It’s simply a legal requirement that will allow ACT to maintain their non-profit status while leveraging the technology platform that Pearson offers for online testing and reporting. ACT owns the tests, the LLC is only there to market them and license back the technology platform. (Slide 9)
  7. Why does MASSP continue to support ACT?
    MASSP will continue to support the will of the majority of the membership. Principals across the state have reported great success using the Explore, Plan and ACT tests. There is natural buy-in from all stakeholders and the rigorous standard has increased student achievement every year since its inception in 2008. As the percentage of student growth in every educator’s evaluation increases, we need an assessment that students will buy into and that provides useable/actionable data. Principals also note the curriculum gaps that have been caused by the lack of an aligned assessment continuum.

With all of this being said, what should you do? Sit down and have a solid discussion with everyone concerned within the District…Assessment Coordinator (Curriculum Director, Assistant Superintendent, Superintendent), MS Principal and HS Principal. Discuss how you are currently using your Explore and Plan scores and at what grade levels. Are you getting the kind of annual data you need to inform curriculum, instruction and evaluation? Is the data being used to improve student achievement at the cohort and individual student level? Is the data driving your school improvement goals? Whatever decisions you make, these are the types of questions that need to be answered.

Once MDE makes its recommendations to the legislature, it is likely there will be additional hearings on the topic both as part of the budget process in spring 2014 and as part of the rewrite of MCL 380.1249 (the educator evaluation legislation) which requires an assessment to provide student growth measures. Stay tuned and we will keep you informed.