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Aurora Institute

23 Groups Call for Innovative Assessment Flexibility in ESEA Reauthorization

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Maria Worthen

Issue(s): Federal Policy, Harness Opportunities in ESSA

This post originally appeared on CompetencyWorks on April 14, 2015.

This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee will begin consideration of a bill to rewrite No Child Left Behind. The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 is a bipartisan bill authored by the HELP Committee’s Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray.

In this bill there are a number of things of interest to the field of competency education; among them, an Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority that would allow states to develop and pilot new systems of assessments that better enable personalized, competency-based learning. States would be able to test their system in a subset of school districts before expanding them statewide. They would be able to use their new system of assessments as the basis for the state-designed accountability system.

Yesterday, a coalition of 23 groups, including our organizations—iNACOL and KnowledgeWorks—sent the following letter to Senators Alexander and Murray, and the members of the HELP Committee. The letter supports the inclusion of the pilot and states key common principles that signatories agree should be included in the final bill.

Senate markup is one of many steps on the road to a reauthorized ESEA being signed into law.  In addition to these common principles, our two groups are supportive of a final bill that maintains high-quality guardrails for the new assessment systems, while allowing any state that is ready to meet those criteria the opportunity to participate in the pilot. Our hope is that this pilot lifts many of the federal barriers that make it challenging for innovative educators to shift to student-centered learning, with meaningful systems of assessments that support personalized teaching and learning.

Here’s the letter:

April 13, 2015


The Honorable Lamar Alexander

Chairman, Committee on Health, Education, and Labor, and Pensions

428 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510


The Honorable Patty Murray

Ranking Member, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

154 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510


Dear Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray:

We, the following undersigned organizations, would like to express our strong support for inclusion of the innovative assessment pilot program in The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. Although we represent and serve diverse organizations, members, and communities, we are united in our belief that the federal government should support states that want to build better assessment systems that focus on mastery, improve teaching and learning, and validate readiness for success in college and career. The purpose of this letter is to express our support for this much-needed flexibility and our interest in working with you to improve the language as the legislative process continues.

An increasing number of states and districts are transitioning to personalized and competency-based education systems that allow them to close learning gaps and prepare all students for success in college and career.  A federal pilot program would enable states to test and evaluate innovative assessment strategies that align to these new approaches for teaching and learning. Without this flexibility, states would remain confined to a system that is not designed to support new and emerging approaches to education.

As a coalition, we support a federal innovative assessment pilot program that incorporates the following key principles:

  • Provides states with the flexibility to design an innovative, balanced system of assessments that may incorporate a combination of summative, interim, formative, and performance-based assessments, and validate when students are ready to demonstrate mastery.
  • Maintains annual assessments in grades 3-8 and once in high school to provide transparent and useful data for educators, students, and other key stakeholders.
  • Demonstrates that new assessments are comparable, valid, reliable, of high technical quality, and consistent with relevant, nationally recognized professional and technical standards
  • Aligns to the state’s accountability system and supports and interventions system to drive differentiated student supports based on individual learning needs, in real time.
  • Enables states to pilot the new system of assessments with a group of districts before implementing the system at scale.
  • Enables states to transition to the new system of assessments indefinitely if the state can demonstrate that the system improves academic outcomes for all students and each subgroup of students.

We strongly encourage federal leadership on this important issue and want to continue to work with you to improve the innovative assessment pilot program in The Every Child Achieves Act. Thank you for your consideration of our views.


America Forward
Big Picture Learning
Blue Engine
Bottom Line
Center for Secondary School Redesign
Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation
College Forward
Foundation for Excellence in Education
Generation Citizen
Genesys Works
Jobs for the Future
New Classrooms Innovation Partners
Matchbook Learning
The Learning Accelerator
Transforming Education
Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS), New Hampshire
Waterford Institute

CC: Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee