Test Better

The Every Student Succeeds Act provides an opportunity revamp student testing.

The Every Student Succeeds Act Provides An Opportunity To Revamp Student Testing

Last December, Congress finally got its act together and passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that overhauled No Child Left Behind. In addition to preserving targeted funding for schools and districts with the highest concentrations of low-income students and investing in early childhood education, ESSA gives states and districts considerably more flexibility over the student assessment.

The new bill reduces the stakes of state tests and give states more autonomy over how they define school success. This new flexibility is a critical opportunity to innovate and develop a system of better, fairer, and fewer tests, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress. Over six-months, researchers at CAP interviewed dozens of parents, teachers, school leaders, system leaders, advocates, assessment experts, and policy leaders to examine problems with testing in American schools.

A huge majority of voters—78 percent—agree that students should be tested annually. Still, over-testing has long been a focus of debate around education. However, CAP’s report found more systemic issues at the root of the testing problem. The report concluded, among other findings, that parents recognize the value of tests but don’t believe they provide much utility for their individual children, state tests are often not aligned with the curriculum, and too much test prep is common. Read more on the findings here.

There is no doubt that the current state of student assessment can be improved. And thanks to ESSA, states and districts have the opportunity to test better by using the new flexibility in the law to develop better, fairer, and fewer testing systems. Here are just a few of CAP’s recommendations to help achieve this goal:

  • Schools should make the actual test-taking process as convenient and pleasant as possible for children by, for instance, permitting bathroom breaks and breaks between testing sections; hold communications events, to explain the tests, and stop the use of unnecessary test prep.
  • School districts should identify overlapping testing programs; build local capacity to support teachers’ understanding of assessment design and administration; create coherent systems of high-quality assessments that are aligned to state standards; better communicate with parents about tests; and tackle logistical issues to minimize disruption to learning.
  • States should develop principles—informed by experts—around assessments; provide support for districts in choosing high-quality formative and interim tests; demand that test results are delivered in a timely fashion, like SAT results; and take advantage of the new ESSA assessment pilot program to design and implement truly innovative assessment regimes.
  • The U.S. Department of Education should develop regulations for ESSA implementation that support high-quality assessments; provide strong technical assistance to states wanting to submit applications for the innovative assessment pilot program; and spread best practice and research next-generation assessments.

BOTTOM LINE: The current testing system has plenty of room for improvement and Congress leaving behind No Child Left Behind provides an opportunity for states and school districts to reset student assessments and develop better, fairer, and fewer tests.

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