The ACT can’t decide whether it likes Common Core or not

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One of America’s biggest standardized tests apparently can’t decide how it feels about Common Core, and appears to be adjusting its position as the political winds shift.

ACT, Inc. produces the ACT test, the country’s most popular college entrance exam, but that’s not the company’s only project. Currently, ACT also produces a test called ACT Aspire, which it offers as an academic proficiency test for the third grade through high school.

The company has a substantial financial interest in the test’s adoption, but it has encountered a major complication: the ongoing war over Common Core.

Polls suggests that Common Core isn’t very popular with parents, but it’s still by far the most widely used set of academic standards in the country. Over 40 states use Common Core, and many of those that don’t have something very close. This puts ACT in an unenviable position; it wants to sell its test to states that need to have tests aligned with Common Core, but it also doesn’t want to overly associate itself with the contentious standards.

So, ACT has taken a rather straightforward approach: talk up ACT’s compatibility with Common Core in some contexts, while downplaying it in others.

In a description of the test on its own website, ACT touts the test as particularly good because it is supposedly the bridge connecting the regular ACT test and Common Core.

“The ACT Aspire Assessment System will provide standards-based reporting[,] with reporting categories based on the ACT College Readiness Standards and aligned to the Common Core State Standards,” the website says.

Similarly, back before the Common Core backlash was in full swing, ACT was happy to tout its tests for being aligned with the Core. When Aspire was first announced in 2012, it was described as “fully aligned” with Common Core. Two years later, that was still the case, as ACT said it “continues in its steadfast support of the purpose and intent of the Common Core State Standards.”

It isn’t surprising that ACT was enthusiastic about Common Core. Not only did the company’s research contribute to its design, but it was also well-represented on the original 2009 committee that helped write Common Core.

But in the last few years, the winds have shifted. Some states have repealed Common Core or are at least moving away from using tests aligned to it. In response, ACT is apparently trying to downplay its test’s explicit connection to the Core.

Earlier this year, the Aspire test was evaluated by the Fordham Institute, an education think-tank that favors Common Core. Fordham criticized Aspire for allegedly adopting the Common Core label but then not covering much of what the standards are supposed to measure.

ACT’s response has been to reverse its past statements and its own website and declare that Aspire is actually not a Common Core test.

“Unlike other assessments included in the study, ACT Aspire is not and was never intended to measure all of the CCSS,” the company said in a statement. “Rather, ACT Aspire is designed to measure the skills and knowledge most important in preparing students for college and career readiness.”

ACT Aspire President Darice Keating made a similar claim in a letter to The Oklahoman, complaining that despite the company’s past statements, Aspire isn’t actually a Common Core test.

“ACT Aspire was never intended to measure all of those standards,” Keating said. “ACT Aspire aligns only to those Common Core standards we have empirically validated as being correlated with college and career readiness.”

The Daily Caller News Foundation contacted ACT Aspire for an explanation of the apparent discrepancy. Keating responded herself, and said the test was compatible with Common Core, but didn’t perfectly line up because some parts of Common Core are deficient.

“Skills included in the CCSS that are not validated as important to college and career readiness are not covered in ACT Aspire,” said Keating. “This allows ACT Aspire to keep testing time to a minimum. That said, while ACT Aspire does not measure all of Common Core standards, all of the skills and knowledge measured by ACT Aspire are aligned with and reportable to the standards.”

Needless to say, this is substantially different from Aspire’s initially purpose of being “fully aligned” to the Core.

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