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ACT Aspire Results Provide One Indicator of Pandemic's Effect on Student Learning

The Arkansas Department of Education’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released preliminary test results from the spring 2021 statewide administration of the ACT Aspire for grades 3 through 10 on July 15. This was the first statewide summative assessment administered in two years, as COVID-19 disrupted the administration of the test in the spring of 2020.

Fort Smith Public Schools (FSPS) students recorded performance levels similar to statewide scores. The decline in preliminary “percent proficient” for FSPS schools was relatively low, and was comparable to the statewide trend. 

Despite a challenging school year, 98 percent of FSPS students and 97 percent of students statewide completed the assessment, with results providing a valuable snapshot of student learning throughout the pandemic. While all subject areas showed expected decreases, educators can use the results to accelerate learning in specific subject areas this summer and fall. 

ADE Secretary Johnny Key said, “The results are not surprising and reflect a learning loss that was expected not only here in Arkansas but around the country.” “Because Arkansas schools were open since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, we are confident that additional learning loss was mitigated. We now have reliable, accurate data, along with other measures, to help us identify where the biggest impacts occurred. We clearly have a lot of work to do to accelerate learning this school year; however, we are committed to providing additional supports to assist districts in their efforts this school year.”

Prior to the release of the 2021 ACT Aspire scores, Dr. Tiffany Bone, FSPS Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction noted that work has already begun in FSPS to prioritize reading and math initiatives. She said, “The Curriculum team has identified Tier 1 instruction in Reading as a main area of focus for 2021-2022. The Benchmark Reading Curriculum approved by the board as well as our newly adopted math curriculum, Eureka Math, will provide our teachers with the resources needed to improve the instructional support available to all of our students. Each Curriculum adoption provides additional resources to address learning loss and targeted intervention.” 

Additionally, the Curriculum & Instruction team is analyzing the 2021 performance of students who attended school in traditional classrooms as one group and those who participated in virtual learning as another. ACT Aspire Growth reports, which are not available yet, will also provide district and school educators with important data that often helps individual students celebrate improvements -- growth -- in their performance regardless of whether or not their improvements met a specific target.  

Growth in scores, regardless of the range, is worth noting especially given the challenges this past year. Morrison and Trusty, two FSPS schools with a report card grade of "D", demonstrated improvement in Reading, which goes against the downward State norm. Spradling, Belle Point, and Southside also bucked that trend. Barling, Carnall, Morrison, Spradling, Trusty and Belle Point also showed improvement in English.

For more information about the Arkansas ACT Aspire Results, visit the Learning Services page of the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

DESE notes in state-wide communication, “While the 2020-2021 academic year was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 97% of Arkansas students in grades 3-10 completed summative testing. Given the unusual circumstances for instruction and assessment, results should be interpreted in context.”