Horry County, state preparing for new ACT tests

South Carolina students are preparing to take two new standardized tests based on the national ACT readiness assessment, and state and local officials hope the tests improve student learning.

The ACT Aspire and ACT Workkeys, both new to S.C. this year, will help determine whether students are college and career ready, said Dana Yow with the S.C. Education Oversight Committee. Until this school year, students took the High School Assessment Program (HSAP) or Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) at the end of the year.

The S.C. General Assembly passed legislation last session to require every 11th grader to take the Workkeys, because unlike the ACT, Workkeys can determine whether students have essential workforce skills, Yow said.

All third-year high school students must take both the ACT and Workkeys assessments, unless they take an alternative test, such as SAT according to Heather Sheehan, director of assessment for Horry County Schools.

ACT Workkeys evaluates students for career readiness. Students who successfully complete the three parts of this assessment may earn a certificate which indicates whether they have the foundational readiness to work in certain careers, according to the Department of Education.

Workkeys takes a little more than three hours to complete and tests students on three subjects: reading; mathematics; and finding information.

“It tests real-world skills that employers seek in everyday situations,” according to the state department.

Horry County Schools will give the Workkeys assessment on April 29.

All students in grades three through eight will take the ACT Aspire assessment, which tests math, English and language skills, Yow said.

Aspire measures academic achievement in English, math, reading, science, and writing in grades 3 through 8. The test allows teachers to determine “whether the child’s academic growth is on pace for college and career success, and if there’s any gaps in the student’s learning, according to the S.C. Department of Education.

Many other states already give grades three through eight some sort of assessment, Yow said. She said Aspire was chosen after the General Assembly passed Act 200, which specified the procurement of a 3-8 assessment in ELA and math, Yow said.

ACT Aspire bid on that assessment spot and was approved by the S.C. Budget and Control Board.

Aspire testing takes place over three days and each grade is allowed a certain amount of time for each subject. Horry County will hold Aspire testing on April 28-30.

Yow said Aspire will take the place of PASS testing – an end-of-the-year assessment – in writing, math and English courses, but some districts still will utilize Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing if necessary.

“MAP is a formative assessment so it is given in some districts to help direct instruction during the year,” she said.

Horry County will continue giving MAP tests, Sheehan said.

Students in Horry County have never seen these tests before, but that isn’t changing the way the district instructs students, Sheehan said. All lessons are based on state standards and the district plans to continue teaching those standards.

“Horry County Schools continues to teach to the standards using innovative strategies which include personal learning devices at many grade levels,” Sheehan said.

Though the General Assembly is still wrestling with procurement for future assessments, the state has a contract with ACT and Aspire for three years, Yow said.