Why the ACT doesn’t work as a Common Core assessment

Nancy Gardner is the chair of the English Department and Senior Project Coordinator at Mooresville Senior High School in Mooresville, North Carolina. A National Board Certified Teacher, she is also a member of CTQ’s Implementing Common Core Standards (ICCS) team. The following post is adapted from a letter Nancy sent to the North Carolina Department of Instruction and the North Carolina State Board of Education.

Last week, North Carolina spent 4.6 million dollars to administer the ACT to juniors across the state. To give the test here at Mooresville Senior High School, many members of our faculty and staff had to administer it, so our schedule for all students was revamped.

Also, 44 of our students required special accommodations. I was a reader for one of these students, who only completed three of the tests during the five hours. He does receive multiple days, so I will continue his test this week during planning while another teacher covers my classes.

Since I was a reader, I was able to see these questions, and I must say I am concerned about the use of this test as part of a capstone assessment for the Common Core standards. Although some of the questions are more rigorous than North Carolina’s current End of Course (EOC) exams—particularly in science—the test simply feels like four EOCs plus the writing assessment put together into one long form.

At times, I could see how the ACT could align with the common core. For example, the test includes:

1. Informational texts from science, history, and art.

2. Some editing/revision questions (very poorly written, particularly for students who are hearing the test read aloud).

3. Some visuals, including graphs and problem-solving scenarios.

However, a multiple-choice test does not measure the standards effectively. I appreciate the clear language in the Common Core standards, but also see the complexity in what they are asking students to do. I also understand they require well crafted teaching in order for students to be successful. Since I teach all seniors, I have looked carefully at the strategic vertical alignment embedded in the common core. I am pleased with the focus on skills, the necessity of collaboration, and the cross-disciplinary possibilities. However, assessing these standards with a multiple-choice test simply maintains the status quo for our students and teachers

The common core standards must be measured with more authentic assessments, including portfolios, writing, presentations, and performances. Mooresville High School, for example, has a strong, 20-year-old Senior Project program. Our program is based on commitment, not just compliance. The state backed away from Senior Projects, but now allocates millions of dollars for more multiple-choice tests that donʼt measure what a student knows and is able to do, much less what a teacher is able to teach.

Senior Projects were started in the late 1980s, but I am amazed at how closely the idea aligns with the Common Core’s literacy standards, as well as with 21st-century skills.

Requiring a Senior Project (if completed in the senior year as a capstone achievement) is a much more valuable way of assessing the common core standards than the test I read yesterday.

Please get this right this time. We have beautiful standards that prepare our kids to be college and career ready. We need to have assessments that match these standards.

Lastly, we need to effectively prepare our future and current teachers so that they can teach to these standards. It is going to require some time to develop all of these components, but we need to allocate our funds properly and use our time wisely for the sake of our future.