ACT Aspire

In April 2014 the ACT will begin offering its new student readiness assessment system, ACT Aspire. The ACT website states that Aspire will be the “first computer-based, longitudinal assessment system,” providing feedback on a given student all the way from elementary school through college. The test will replace the ACT Explore and PLAN tests, which were designed for students in eighth through tenth grade. Neither Explore nor PLAN will be available after June 2014.

Aspire will allow schools to assess students much earlier than either of its predecessors, Explore and PLAN. Whereas  Explore was designed for students as young as eighth grade,  Aspire will debut with versions for students from third grade upward. Plus, the test may be a proving ground for the computer-based testing that will likely replace paper tests within the next few years.

ACT Aspire is the results of a partnership between ACT and Pearson in an effort to highlight progress toward ACT College Readiness Standards and Benchmarks as well as the Common Core State Standards. Unlike Plan and Explore, the Aspire tests will include more than multiple-choice question types,. There will be shorter and longer constructed-response questions, and the computer version will have technology-enhanced items that allow  interactivity.

The 60-minute reading test will include three constructed-response questions along with 18-19 multiple choice items and a few—or no—technology enhanced items. The writing test will consist of one 30-minute constructed response item, with no other item types. A 30- to 40-minute English test, designed to gauge students’ ability to revise and edit texts, will be composed of multiple-choice and technology-enhanced items.

The science and math tests, which will run 55 to 65 minutes, are heavier on constructed response items, and appear to have more questions overall than the other subjects.

One tricky transition issue for Aspire will be its use of a different scoring scale that the ACT college admissions test, which is scored on a two-digit score scale, from 1 to 36. Plan is scored from 1 to 32, and Explore from 1 to 25.

The Aspire tests, however, will be scored on a yet-to-be-determined three-digit score scale, to facilitate finer-grained reporting on results.

“The grade 3-11 tests need to be reported in a granular fashion to get down to where students might need help,” said Paul Weeks, ACT’s VP of customer engagement. “A two-digit score scale doesn’t lend itself to that kind of reporting; there aren’t enough score points.”