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ACT to Roll Out Career and College Readiness Tests for 3rd-10th Grades

ACT Inc. announced today that it is developing a new series of assessments for every grade level, from 3rd through 10th, to measure skills needed in college and careers.

The tests, which would be administered digitally and provide instant feedback to teachers, will be piloted in states this fall and scheduled to be launched in 2014, says Jon Erickson, the president of education for ACT, the Iowa City, Iowa-based nonprofit testing company.

The "next generation" assessment will be pegged to the Common Core State Standards and cover the four areas now on the ACT: English, reading, math, and science.

"It connects all the grades—elementary school through high school—to measure growth and development," says Erickson. "It informs teaching, as students progress, to intervene at early ages."

The assessment would look beyond academics to get a complete picture of the whole student, he says. There would be interest inventories for students, as well as assessment of behavioral skills for students and teachers to evaluate.

It will fill a niche as the first digital, longitudinal assessment to connect student performance across grades, both in and out of the classroom, according to the ACT. The hope is to get information on students' weaknesses and strengths earlier so teachers can make adjustments to improve their chances of success.

ACT has not arrived at a cost for the assessment system, but it intends to offer it in modules for states, districts, or schools to buy to administer to all students. As a nonprofit organization, Erickson says ACT wants to keep pricing affordable and at the lowest price acceptable to states. Teachers could choose to use all or part of the assessment, likely in the classroom during the typical school day. ACT is still field-testing the system so the length of the assessment is not set.

With digital delivery of the test, students would have automatic scoring and real-time assessments, says Erickson. (There would be pencil-and-paper testing to accommodate schools that would not be equipped with computers.) The assessment would include a combination of multiple-choice, open-response, and interactive items that would incorporate some creativity into testing, he adds. It would be both formative and summative for accountability purposes.

The new system, which has yet to be officially named, is "complementary" and "consistent" with PARCC and Smarter Balanced, the two state consortia designing assessments aligned with the common standards, says Erickson.

Acknowledging not all children have keyboarding skills, Erickson says ACT will address that preparation issue, but ideally, it would not be a timed assessment.

ACT plans to provide training for teachers in how to administer the test and interpret the results, adds Erickson. The goal is for the system to be practical for teachers to improve and target instruction, as well as meaningful for students.

Just how states might use the new assessment is uncertain. It could replace the current state test, be given as a lead-up to the test, or used as a supplement for it, he says.

ACT developed the test in response to needs expressed by states to improve college and career readiness, says Erickson. Providing integrated testing from elementary to high school, with the ACT as the capstone in 11th grade, "will be a game changer," he adds.

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