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April 21, 2013

Educators cautious over new Ala. testing system

ACT will align with federal Common Core standards

Alabama is the first state in the union to adopt a new standardized testing system aligned with the Common Core federal standards, but local educators are still anxious to see how the change will be implemented.

The State Board of Education recently approved a resolution making the ACT Aspire system the annual reading and math assessment for grades 3-8 in public schools statewide. The change takes effect in August.

The assessment is from ACT Inc., and is reportedly fully aligned with the Common Core standards that some Republicans in the Legislature have been trying to repeal.

State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice, who supports Common Core, said the new assessment aligns K-12 with the demands of colleges, business and industry and will allow state educators to better guide instruction.

Cullman County Board of Education Superintendent Billy Coleman said the ACT, which is a commonly used college-entry exam, is a proven brand and could be a good fit for Alabama systems. But, he still worries about where state officials will set the standards for “passing.”

“I think the real questions are still out there, and those are, what are the levels that are going to be the benchmark scores?” he said. “We’ve heard some we thought were unrealistically high, but we’ve since talked to some board members who indicated they would be reasonable.”

Coleman went on to explain that, with the right approach, the new testing system could actually be a more equitable way to measure students destined for both college and career tech.

“The natural concern is, all students don’t go to college, and some may go on to great careers in technical jobs,” he said. “You almost worry, because we’re talking about career readiness and ACT, but actually ACT is an assessment, and [state school] board members said they would be realistic in expectations on that. I do think the board is sold on career readiness and supporting career tech, which is good.”

Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jan Harris said the ACT company should be able to provide a good testing system, but worried turmoil in the state legislature could lead to conflicting plans.

“From what I’ve heard it aligns more closely with the college and career-ready standards, and it sounds like it will be a good fit,” she said. “However, everyday is a tenuous day in Montgomery. With all the bills and changes taking place, it may be problematic if there are some changes there. But, we are moving forward, and we’ve had some training internally.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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