Alabama, the first state to adopt an all ACT testing format, has released some of the data collected from last year’s standardized testing, and the results are helping educators get a better idea of how students in the state are learning.

In 2013, the Alabama State Board of Education began working with ACT to establish benchmark measures for the state’s new college-and-career-ready standards — standards mostly comprised of the controversial Common Core State Standards adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia.

A press release from the Alabama State Department of Education said the state “had a real need to move to higher-level tests,” which prompted the unilateral move to ACT.

Last spring, students in grades 3-8 took the first year of new assessments aligned to Common Core, the ACT Aspire in place of the Alabama Reading and Math Test (ARMT).

According to the ALSDE, the ACT Aspire focuses less on multiple-choice questions and more on open-response questions, and students with “meaningful, honest feedback” to help make sure a student in on track.

“These results provide a new baseline for students’ achievement. The results are not comparable to previous assessments as they are more rigorous and challenging, aligned to new standards and expectations for students,” State Superintendent Tommy Bice said.

“Clearly, we must own the areas in which we need improvement as it is our goal to make sure all of Alabama’s students graduate prepared for the world which awaits them after high school. We are proud of educators and students for teaching, learning, and aspiring to meet the challenges of higher academic standards.”

The ALSDE said moving into the new system was challenging for the educators and students, but due to the increased rigor of the assessments, the ALSDE maintains that perceptions of “drops in scores” are misguided — calling them instead, “a shift in measurement.”

According to the state, only one in five Alabama high school graduates was ready for college based on the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in 2013, and one in three college students required remedial classes in math, English or both.

“Numbers like this present a significant problem,” the release reads. “Just four years from now we can expect to see 82 percent of jobs in the state require some type of postsecondary education, whether that is a four-year degree, a two-year degree or industry certification.”

The ACT Aspire represents a significant change from how student achievement has been defined up to now and will change how student and school performance is reported in the future. Student ability is not suddenly dropping with the shift to the new tests. Instead, the expectation of what students must know and be able to do on state assessments has become more rigorous.

Bice said that was because the academic expectations of Alabama’s students have been too low in the past.

“This is the tough medicine we need to take if we’re going to make sure students are really ready to compete for tomorrow’s jobs against people from all over the world,” Bice said. “The good news is, our students and teachers can and will rise to the occasion. Soon we will see an upward trend in the percentage of students who are truly college-and-career ready.”

A total of 334,573 students took the ACT Aspire assessment. The test is administered in late spring during the closing weeks of the school year to ensure student learning continues as long as possible.

In May, the Mobile County Public School System was the first district to give that test entirely online. In an interview with Lagniappe at the time, MCPSS supervisor of marketing and partnerships Rena Philips said the flexible schedule allows classes to take the test when it’s convenient for teachers and their lesson plans.

The online format will also give format will also significantly reduce the time it takes teachers to get back the results from testing. Next years, school districts will receive results within 40 days after the testing window ends.

The scores are shown in terms of “exceeding, ready, close, and in need of support” for students in grades 3-8 for reading and mathematics. Statewide percentages show there is a need for improvement.

This breakdown from the Alabama State Department of Education shows the percentages of students meeting, not meeting or exceeding the new standards in English and mathematics.

This breakdown from the Alabama State Department of Education shows the percentages of students meeting, not meeting or exceeding the new standards in English and mathematics.

The change in elementary and junior high testing came the same year Alabama’s juniors took the ACT, a college entrance exam, for the first time.

Facilitating the ACT cost the state $52.50 per student, and the ALSDE budgeted $2.7 million for this year’s tests — funds that were created through the elimination of old tests like the Alabama High School Graduation Exam.