University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

The Seven Year Hitch

In The View from the OEP on May 15, 2019 at 12:04 pm

Keep Calm

Today we heard that the ACT Aspire is sticking around at least through 2026. ADE recently signed a contract for 7 additional years of ACT Aspire assessments.  We know that the assessment window just ended and that testing is that LAST thing educators throughout the state want to think about right now, but this consistency is great news!

We think sticking with the ACT Aspire is a great plan and applaud ADE for not changing the assessment for grades 3-10 at this time. Although we can’t compare Arkansas’ student achievement with any other state (because, so far as we can tell we are the only state currently using ACT Aspire as our annual assessment for grades 3-10) we think it is important to continue with the ACT Aspire so that we can look over time to see what is (and isn’t) working for students in our state.

For example, consider some recent analyses that we have been doing to see if differences in achievement for particular student groups are decreasing over time.  We discussed the statewide achievement gaps by race and gender in an earlier blog post, but today we present differences in student achievement by participation in the Free/ Reduced Lunch program. To be FRL eligible a student’s family must have an income below 185 percent of the federal poverty line, and so participation in the program is a rough measure of the student poverty.  Students from lower income backgrounds generally score lower on state assessments than their more-economically advantaged peers.

We examine the difference in average achievement percentile on the annual state assessments between FRL-eligible students and students that, based on higher family incomes, are not eligible to participate for the FRL program. Information is presented by grade, and, we would hope that over time, effective schooling would decrease the differences in achievement between the groups.

Figure 1, below, illustrates the difference in the average literacy percentile between FRL students and students that are not participating in the FRL program. We can see that the achievement gap for FRL-participating third graders was -26 percentage points in 2008-09, and that it had closed to -19 in 2017-18. Similar gap reduction is evidenced for 4th, 5th, and 8th grades. There has been a lot of variability in the intervening years, however, and it is difficult to say with confidence that the gaps will continue to close.

Figure 1. Difference in Average Literacy Achievement by Free/Reduced Lunch Eligibility, by Grade, 2008-09 through 2017-18

FRL LIT grade2

Figure 2, illustrates the difference in average math percentile between FRL-eligible students and Non-FRL students. Information is presented by grade, and we can see that the math achievement gap for FRL-participating third graders was -25 percentage points in 2008-09, and that it remained at -24 in 2017-18. A similar pattern is present from all grade 3-8, but, as with literacy achievement, there has been quite a bit of variation in the gap over the last decade.

Figure 2. Difference in Average Math Achievement by Free/Reduced Lunch Eligibility, by Grade, 2008-09 through 2017-18Math FRL Grade

We can’t fail to notice the major difference in both the literacy and math achievement gaps in 2014-15.  As noted on the figures, this was the year that the PARCC assessment was administered. Because this was the only year that the PARCC was administered, we are unable to determine if the reduction in the gaps was a real reflection of how our students were performing, or just some type of effect of a different test. Variation like this makes it difficult to measure our progress in making a difference for kids, so we are happy to hear that Arkansas is committed to ACT Aspire for another 7 years. Fingers crossed that a consistent target will reflect increased achievement for our students!


  1. I would love to see analysis of how the ACT Aspire is aligned to the current Arkansas learning standards. Is there a document out there that shows the alignment?

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