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Aurora Institute

Public Comments Submitted on the Competitive Grants for State Assessments Program

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Alexis Chambers

Issue(s): Federal Policy, Create Space to Pilot Systems of Assessments

Federal Update

Remember the Innovative Assessment Pilot (Innovative Accountability and Assessment Demonstration Authority, or IADA) from Section 1204 in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)? The U.S. Department of Education has rolling applications for states to apply — and now — it looks like the Department of Education might free up some funding for interested states.

What’s New: Grant Funding for IADA

In January, the U.S. Department of Education published a notice of proposed priorities for the Competitive Grants for State Assessments (CGSA) program, soliciting input and feedback from the public. The Department is proposing use of CGSA program funds to be made available to states planning to apply for the IADA and those states implementing an approved plan would also be eligible. The Department’s proposed priorities anticipates funding might cover 12-18 months for a state planning grant and 36-48 months for an implementation grant (in the proposed regulations).

Our Joint Letter of Response to USED

The Aurora Institute, in collaboration with KnowledgeWorks, Center for Innovation in Education (CiE), Great Schools Partnership, and the Center for Assessment, jointly submitted a formal letter commenting on these proposed priorities (read below). We expressed that meeting the requirements of the IADA requires significant time and resources for states. We provided specific recommendations to improve the proposed regulations with solutions to prevent unnecessary barriers to piloting new approaches that seek to improve equity.

We offer the following recommendations:

  • Require that states applying for planning grants produce a working theory of action describing the “problem” the state is trying to solve with the IADA, and why the IADA will help the state address that issue.
  • Coordinate announcing which states are approved for the IADA with the awarding of implementation grants for FY2020.
  • Leverage these planning and implementation priorities in future CGSA competitions.
  • Adjust the timeline for the length of the grants to allow states a longer window for planning grants and to align the timeline of the implementation grants to the five-year demonstration period for the IADA.
  • Reduce the regulatory burden for the CGSA implementation grants and the IADA application process to minimize reporting burden on states.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides flexibility for states to redesign systems of assessments to better align with student-centered learning. Section 1204 of ESSA establishes the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA), allowing states to develop next-generation systems of assessments and pilot them on a smaller scale in select districts. This is an opportunity for states to launch new assessment systems with interested and willing districts and continuously improve on their results as they scale these new assessments statewide. States and localities are rethinking how next-generation systems of assessments can ensure quality, equity and excellence — with assessments “of” and “for” learning — and are examining how accountability can support continuous improvement.

Flexibility under the IADA supports the use of competency-based assessments, adaptive assessments and performance-based assessments that allow educators to monitor student progress throughout the year and meet students where they are in their learning. To transform learning for all students, assessments must empower educators to help students attain a broader set of success outcomes and guide improvements in teaching and learning to ensure all students are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed for success in college, career, and civic life.

Technical Assistance and Resources Available for Advancing Next-Generation Systems of Assessments

 In August 2019, Scott Marion, Executive Director of the Center for Assessment, addressed some of the common challenges states face in developing their IADA applications, “Being Innovative Under ESSA’s Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority: An Innovator’s Hope.” Marion makes the case for “commit[ing] ourselves to assessment innovations that support rather than hinder efforts to reform our teaching and learning systems.”

In January 2018, iNACOL held a webinar, The Innovative Assessment Pilot:  A New Opportunity for States and Districts to Collaborate in Developing Next Generation Systems of Assessments. The archived webinar provides an overview of the IADA’s requirements and application process.

Want to learn more? Contact us or our partner organizations. States can learn more about the new flexibility in ESSA and action steps states can take to develop new assessments through the following resources:

Additional Resources

Alexis Chambers is a Policy Associate at the Aurora Institute.