Alabama’s public school students are struggling with the new annual standardized test required by the Alabama State Department of Education, judging by recently released results for the 2014-2015 school year.
Though annual testing isn’t new, the ACT Aspire, first administered during the 2013-2014 school year, is. The test is given to students in third through eighth grade in math and reading, and in fifth and seventh grades in science.
Statewide, of the six grades tested, only in third grade were more than half the students proficient in math; in no grade were more than half the students proficient in reading. (See full report on reading and math test scores in charts at conclusion of this story.)
(1) The ACT Aspire is a more difficult and a different type of test than the test previously used to annually measure student learning.
The Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT), developed by educators in Alabama, was given annually beginning in 2005 and retired in 2013.
ARMT results showed between 80% and 85% of Alabama’s students were proficient, though the gold standard test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), showed barely 20% of Alabama’s students were proficient.
(2) Standardized test results across the country in the 2014-2015 school year show a much lower percentage of children proficient in math and reading than in previous years.
Education Week recently published a compilation of all available state standardized test results and the names of the tests that were used. States using their own tests (19 states) scored at higher proficiency rates than states using either the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test (11 states plus the District of Columbia) or SmarterBalanced (18 states).
States that switched to PARCC or SmarterBalanced saw their proficiency scores drop, in many cases as dramatically as Alabama’s did from the ARMT to the ACT Aspire.
PBS NewsHour recently took a look at results across the country and found that states that moved to new tests were faced with a tough reality. Ohio ultimately decided to use a lower passing score on the PARCC, which raised their proficiency rates. Ohio’s legislature responded by banning schools from using the PARCC test in the future.
(3) Nationally, NAEP results were down in math, and remained flat in reading.
Alabama has historically been in the bottom tier of states for NAEP results, and this year’s results proved no different.
NAEP results, released a month ago, showed a decline in Alabama’s actual scale scores, but those declines were not deemed statistically different from the 2013 results.
NAEP tests a sample of students statewide in grades 4 and 8 in the subjects of English and math every two years. About 2,100 Alabama students in each of those grades took the NAEP in 2015. 110 schools participated in 4th grade assessments and 90 schools participated in 8th grade assessments.
(4) The total time taken on state-mandated annual standardized testing has dropped significantly.
The only Alabama state-mandated tests are in reading and math in third through eighth grade, and in science in fifth and seventh grades.
According to ACT, each of the subject tests takes an hour to administer, meaning those taking only math and reading spend two hours testing, with the science test taking an additional hour. .
In previous years, the ARMT had been given alongside the Stanford Achievement Test. Total testing could take as many as eight days in the spring.
High schoolers have a different testing regime. Tenth graders take the ACT Aspire beginning this school year, and all eleventh graders must take the ACT with Writing college entrance exam. Twelfth graders take the ACT WorkKeys exam.
The ACT with Writing college entrance exam takes more than four hours, and each of the three ACT WorkKeys tests takes 55 minutes.
The Alabama High School Graduation Exam was dropped for students entering ninth grade in the 2010-2011 school year. There is no exit exam for Alabama’s high schoolers at this time.
(5) ACT Aspire results show some subgroups of students consistently perform better than others.
Overall, math results were higher than last year in all grades except 8th grade, while reading results showed no improvement.
This past school year was the first time students in 5th and 7th grade were tested in science. Those results showed 37% and 33% of students were proficient, respectively.
Of students in poverty, statewide only between 20% and 40% were proficient in each area except for 3rd grade math, where nearly 45% of students were proficient, and 8th grade math, where barely 16% of students were proficient. In Alabama, more than half of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Statistics are not made public for which students of which race in which grade are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Across the board, Hispanic students’ proficiency rates tracked very close to results for students in poverty. Of the 335,332 students in grades 3 through 8 during the 2014-2015 school year, 6% of students are Hispanic.
Black students’ proficiency rates statewide were lower than white and Hispanic students’ test results in every grade and subject tested. In Alabama, about a third of students in tested grades are black.
White students, who account for 57% of students in the tested grades, showed higher proficiency rates than all other races except for Asian students (around 1.5 % of the tested student population).
A very small percentage of children in special education and those labeled “Limited English Proficient (LEP)” are proficient. Less than 10% of students in these groups were proficient in 5th and 7th grade science. Results for math start at 23% and 28% proficiency, respectively, in third grade, but drop to 4% and 5% proficiency, respectively, by 8th grade. In reading, 3rd graders show 12% and 8% proficiency, respectively, but that drops to 8% and 6% by the 8th grade.
Similar trends in subgroups were evident with previous standardized tests as well.
South Carolina is the only other state using the ACT Aspire for grades 3 through 8. Alabama’s students scored lower than South Carolina’s in math, but higher in 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grades in reading.