ACT Aspire will be new test used by archdiocese

The Office of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans has signed a new contract for the annual assessment test that students will take.

The Office of Catholic Schools will now use the ACT Aspire test this year to test students starting in third grade. This replaces the TerraNova III assessment that  has been used since 2007. ACT Aspire also replaces ACT Explore and Plan tests taken by eighth and ninth graders. These new tests align directly with ACT college-readiness tests taken by high school students and the new Common Core standards, so they provide consistency and continuity to track students from third grade to early high school.

“This test builds on ACT College readiness (standards and benchmarks) and is aligned with Common Core standards,“ said Dr. RaeNell Houston, an associate superintendent with the Office of Catholic Schools. “With the shift in focus of our instruction, we needed to make sure our assessment aligned with the standards.”

Switching to these tests will allow teachers, principals and the Office of Catholic Schools to establish benchmarks – using data and research compiled by ACT – to determine “adequate progression” of students, especially in the elementary years of third through seventh grade.

Five-year contract ended
The decision to look for a new test came near the time the five-year contract with CTB/TerraNova was expiring. A five-year review process is customary.

Houston said a sub-committee of the Superintendent’s Advisory Council composed of 12 principals in kindergarten through 12th grade and three members of the Office of Catholic Schools, brought in multiple test vendors to present their assessments. Teachers, counselors, principals and curriculum coordinators then were invited to evaluate and compare the assessments. This process took place from September 2013-April 2014.

The subcommittee then made a recommendation to the Office of Catholic Schools to transition to ACT Aspire for third through sixth grade. Archdiocesan schools have to use the test for third graders for the 2014-15 year but have the option of using ACT Aspire for fourth through sixth grade or remaining with TerraNova this first year.

“We are leaving it up to the individual schools,” Houston said, in keeping with the autonomy that OCS gives schools and the fact that not all schools went full-force  with Common Core standards in all grades. 

One of the differences between TerraNova and ACT Aspire, Houston said, is that it requires students to demonstrate reasoning and writing skills.

“Kids will have to read a passage and write a response, citing evidence from the passage,” Houston said about the English-Language Arts portion of the assessment.  Math also will utilize higher critical-thinking skills by requiring students to explain how they deduced an answer and complete real-world problems – demonstrating the algorithm (process) and conceptual understanding, Houston said.

She gave an example. Instead of answering a simple problem like 3x3=9, test takers might have a word problem like this: If a teacher had three groups of students and three students in each group, how many pencils does she need? They may have to draw a picture of how they got the answer.

Another difference that parents will notice off the bat is the individual profile of how their child did. With TerraNova, the performance objectives measured by the test and subcategories showed a scale (raw) score and a stanine scale of 0-100 divided into four categories of  below average to above average, comparing a student’s proficiency to the norm group that took the test.

ACT Aspire also gives a national percentile rank and scale (raw) score for each part of the test but provides more narrative about each student’s proficiency compared to a national norm and also a STEM math/science and ELA score. Since the test is aligned with ACT, once a student gets to eighth or ninth grade, ACT scores also are projected.

“So schools will get an idea of areas necessary to work on” with students to help them excel on the college entrance exam, and identify curriculum gaps, Houston said.

Teachers also will get a proficiency summary ranking  students in that class based on how they did on the test.

“This test builds on college and career readiness that ACT measures,” Houston said. “Parents will get more meaningful information on how we could keep children on track to be successful.”

ACT Aspire training for teachers, principals and test coordinators from archdiocesan schools will be Aug. 28 in the Schulte Auditorium at Notre Dame Seminary. Online tutorials and scheduled webinars also will be available, Houston said.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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