Before they are even ready to read, some kindergartners may soon be offered an opportunity to test their college and career readiness. ACT, Inc. announced July 2 that they have created a “next generation” assessment for elementary through high school students. The nonprofit is presenting a digital tool that will measure students’ performance, progress, and career goals from kindergarten presumably through to the time when they are old enough to take the legendary college entrance exam, the ACT.
ACT, Inc. has long helped high school students prepare for college with its renowned exam. This will be the first time the company has tested such young students and for over such an extended period of time. It appears that this manner of digital testing (which is based on the Common Core Standards) will track students’ progress and offer educators and parents benchmarks for success and improvements.
“ACT wants to elevate testing to achieve the higher purpose we established when the company was founded in 1959—providing critical information to guide students along their journeys toward success in school and their future work lives,” said ACT CEO Jon Whitmore, in the company’s press release. “Periodic assessment of what students have learned, starting early in their academic career, will help them, their parents, and educators know what steps they must take to stay on the right path. ACT’s next generation assessment system will be designed to accomplish this.”
Robert Schaeffer, the public education director at The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), a nonprofit concerned with testing practices, says he is wary of this new assessment. “I suspect ACT is trying to create a longitudinal database about kids from their first contact in formal schooling,” he tells TakePart, adding that he does not know any details more than what ACT presented in their press release. He says there is a possibility that this could benefit students. “An assessment of strengths and weakness that ensures a young child gets the additional services he or she might need, that’s a good thing. But if it’s a high stakes exam used to deny young children opportunities or track them into particular levels of education, it would be a terrible idea.”
All parents and educators should demand to know what the test is and how ACT plans to use it.
According to the Associated Press, ACT (which is partnering with Pearson on this) will roll the test out this fall to a handful of schools, but it will be readily available in 2014. The AP reports: “Schools won’t be compelled to use the new tool, but [Jon Erickson, president of ACT’s education division] said he anticipates that entire states or groups of states will choose to utilize it. The tool can be customized to include state-specific benchmarks and other performance measures.”
Schaeffer recommends that parents and educators ask ACT a lot of questions. “The devil is in the details,” he says. “All parents and educators should demand to know what the test is and how ACT plans to use it.”
Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and Forbes.com about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.