Federal

Approval Deferred on ACT for Accountability in Wyo., Wis.

By Catherine Gewertz — February 07, 2017 2 min read
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Wisconsin and Wyoming have been notified by the U.S. Department of Education that they cannot win approval to use the ACT to measure high school achievement until they submit “substantial” amounts of evidence supporting its use.

The two states learned of the deferred approvals in letters in December and January. They came as part of the federal department’s long-standing “peer review” process, which requires states to undergo periodic, detailed evaluation of their assessment systems.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, allows states to substitute “nationally recognized high school tests” such as the ACT or SAT instead of their own state tests to measure secondary school achievement. But states must win the approval of the federal department’s peer reviewers, the same way they must for the assessments they use in elementary and middle school.

Thirty-eight states submitted all or parts of their assessment systems for review last year. Like Wisconsin and Wyoming, most received notices that their assessment systems only “partially meet” federal requirements. They, too, must submit more evidence to win full approval, but they can continue using the tests while they do so.

Wyoming and Wisconsin are the only states that sought approval for the ACT in this latest round of peer review. The federal department’s responses are of interest because a growing number of states are using the ACT or SAT college-admissions tests as a way of gauging students’ mastery of academic standards, including the common core.

Next Steps

The letters said the federal department will place conditions on part of the states’ federal Title I funding allocations while they work on winning approval and would hold quarterly progress calls with them to track their progress.

ACT spokesman Ed Colby said the company is eager to work with Wisconsin and Wyoming to help them gain full approval to use the ACT for accountability. He noted in an email that the letters “don’t state that the ACT is not compliant. They simply state that there are some aspects and additional data that [the Education Department] wants to see.”

Both states were asked to supply documentation that “independent” alignment studies were conducted to show that the ACT fully reflects the states’ academic content standards. And both states were also asked to supply evidence that supports their use of the ACT for students with disabilities.

Wisconsin’s letter, in particular, seeks evidence that particular groups of students weren’t disadvantaged in taking the ACT. The Education Department requested a “differential item functioning” analysis that shows whether certain kinds of questions, such as essays or performance tasks, “function differently for relevant student groups.” The state must also clarify “what specific accessibility tools are available to all students, including students with disabilities,” and demonstrate that it has a process to determine that the accommodations it provides allow fair access for English-learners and students with special needs.

A version of this article appeared in the February 08, 2017 edition of Education Week as Feds: States Must Make Case for ACT

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