University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

A Student’s Bill of Assessment Rights

In The View from the OEP on April 26, 2017 at 11:39 am

Ahhh, testing season.  Throughout the state, students are completing their annual state assessments.  Participation in Arkansas’ assessment is required for all public school students, and most are completing the ACT Aspire.  This is the second year for this assessment, and here’s the main facts about the test:

  • Each student will be assessed in English, reading, math, science and writing
  • 4 to 4 ½ hours total testing time per grade
  • Accessibility features available for all students, and
  • Accommodations available for qualifying students
  • Students in grades 9 and 10 will receive a predicted score for the ACTⓇ
  • Computer-based administration with hardship waivers available for paper/pencil administration
  • Schools set their own schedules within the following windows:
    • Computer-based administration: April 10-May 12

But what else do students and their parents need to know about these assessments?  Here at the OEP, we think they should know

  • when the results will be back,
  • how the results will be used and by whom,
  • how to interpret the results when they get them, and
  • what is the next step if the student didn’t meet grade-level expectations.

We were discussing these issues last week at the National Task Force on Assessment Education, and we like Oregon’s Student Assessment Bill of Rights that clearly identifies the rights of students and their families when it comes to assessments.



Certifying Learning

Annual standardized statewide assessments like the ACT Aspire ‘certify‘ learning by identifying if a student has (or has not) met the performance expectation set by the state.  State and district leadership examine the results to determine if ‘enough’ students met the performance expectation.  Over the past 15 years, Arkansas used the percentage of students meeting grade level expectations to ‘rate’ schools.

The annual ‘snapshot’ of student performance provided by the statewide assessments is intended to provide a benchmark for how Arkansas students are performing.  Over the past several years, this has been difficult to determine because the assessments have been changing each year- from Benchmark (2013-14) to PARCC (2014-15) to ACT Aspire (2015-16).  The results from this year’s ACT Aspire assessments will be the first directly comparable results since 2013, and will allow us to more easily determine if we are doing a better job helping our students learn.

More recently, Arkansas has developed a way to use these annual assessments to measure if students have made enough ‘growth’ from the prior year.  This measure examines how students score compared to how well we thought they would score based on prior assessments.  Schools where the majority of students score better than expected receive a high “Value-Added” score. Here at the OEP, we really like the idea of examining student growth, because it should be less related to the economic status of the students at the schools than the percentage of students meeting grade level expectations.  You can read more about this new measure and what the data show here.

Supporting Learning

Whether measuring performance or growth, however, annual standardized assessments like the ACT Aspire are not good tools for SUPPORTING student learning.  The once-a-year snapshot isn’t detailed enough to dig down into the specific skills that students do and do not know, and by the time the results are back, students have moved into the next grade.

Information that SUPPORTS student learning are often gathered in the classroom through observation, questioning, or other checks for understanding are called formative assessments.  Teachers and students use formative assessments to gather evidence of where students are in their learning and of any problems that they are having. In the hands of a knowledgeable teacher and informed student,  these assessments can move students learning forward.

Unfortunately, classroom assessments are not always used effectively to support learning. A primary cause is when assessments are being used (like annual state assessments) to ‘certify’ learning. Many students complete an assignment or classroom test, fail to demonstrate that they understand the material, and receive a ‘bad grade’. In most classrooms, the student will be presented with new content the next day, and is never given the opportunity to fully understand the previous material.  When students are not provided the opportunity to master content, they can face poor foundational skills and begin to feel that they cannot be successful in school.

In some cases, students may receive ‘good grades’ from their teachers, but fail to demonstrate their understanding on standardized assessments.  According to the State Report Card, more than 1 in 3 Arkansas high school students are ‘Grade Inflated’. This means they have a GPA of “B” or above, but scored less than “19” on the ACT math or reading. Students who score less that 19 on these sections of the ACT  have to take remedial courses in college which do not count toward their degree.  Poor assessment practices at their high schools are providing students the wrong information about their learning and leading them to encounter barriers in continuing their education.  PAS

Some teachers ARE using formative assessments to adjust their instruction but often they do not have access to high-quality tools.  As Rick Stiggins points out in his new book, The Perfect Assessment System, we have invested in the quality of an annual standardized assessment but not in the quality of classroom and interim assessments.


Focusing on Learning

Unfortunately, many teachers and students do not understand how to use assessment data in the learning process.  This feedback loop is essential to improving student learning and should be occurring regularly throughout the school year.

Arkansas can use the flexibility inherent in ESSA to ensure that students, parents, teachers, school leaders, and school districts develop a better understanding of the principles and practices of sound assessment that ultimately support student learning.  We can leverage ESSA funds to do some of the important work to develop sound assessment practices and the ESSA guiding document on assessment literacy provides concrete suggestions for using ESSA funding to address this critical need.

While schools may make a ‘big deal’ out of the ACT Aspire testing, it isn’t the most important time of the school year.  We would like to see as much focus on each day of the learning in the classroom, with students and teachers using high-quality formative assessment practices to help students understand where they are in their learning and what they need to do to grow their understanding.


  1. *While schools may make a ‘big deal’ out of the ACT Aspire testing, it isn’t the most important time of the school year. * We would like to see as much focus on each day of the learning in the classroom, We work hard everyday. Do you teach in a classroom?

    • Thanks for your comment! I taught in a classroom for several years, and although I am not currently in a classroom I work with classroom teachers on assessment regularly. My point is that the ongoing assessment occurring throughout the school year needs to be high-quality and involve student ownership. I assume you would agree that this type of assessment is more critical to students’ learning than the results of the ACT Aspire?

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