In the 2019-2020 school year, all 50 states received permission from the U.S. Department of Education to waive the statewide standardized tests required by federal law for elementary and secondary education. Instead of a void, this should create an opportunity to innovate, build a bridge and construct balanced systems of assessments that honor anytime, anywhere learning, and better pinpoint student proficiency levels on a progression in real-time. How? We need innovative assessments, better data models, and competency-based systems for the future.
Change Requirements for ESSA Section 1204
Today, we need the best possible information on teaching and learning. In a recent survey, local districts and schools cited the #1 barrier to innovating as the rigidity of the current assessment system. Assessment could be the entry point for transformation, but right now, it constrains redesigning curriculum, modernizing instruction, and re-imagining learning.
The original expectations for ESSA Section 1204, the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority, are falling short. The way that the Innovative Assessment Pilot is conceptualized is not working well in practice, and more needs to be done to rethink balanced systems of assessments to support teaching and learning in partnerships with students, families, educators, and communities who want to ensure high-quality educational experiences and holistic outcomes.
What states, districts, and schools need right now:
- More space to innovate with innovative assessment pilots (emphasis on plural).
- Allow states to set up a district portfolio model with multiple pilots for innovative assessments.
- Lift the seven-state cap.
- Remove the strict scaling requirement (Five-year timeline for scaling a single pilot statewide); and allow time for planning and development.
- Build better data models.
- Create strong evaluations.
- Develop a plan and measure progress during implementation against the approved plan (with a shared learning agenda, evaluation component, and R&D).
- All levels should have a theory of action, aligning everything in the state. Fundamentally state, local and school levels value different things when it comes to accountability.
- Build assessment literacy as core capacity.
- Align K-12, higher education, career and technical education with the workforce.
States should have the autonomy to develop a strategy that makes sense for their local contexts.
Balanced Systems of Assessments Are Needed
Standardized tests play a role, but we need to create space for states to run multiple pilots for innovative assessments using balanced systems. We need new conceptions of scaling. We need to build consistency, validity, reliability, and comparability, which takes time, while building assessment literacy and capacity.
The federal government and states can hold innovative districts and school networks to a high bar for creating new data models through innovative assessment pilots. Student achievement records and portfolios that collect data from balanced assessment systems, along with evidence from formative assessments, interim assessments, performance assessments, and summative assessments can capture a more robust evidence base of students’ learning over time.
New innovative assessment models can set literacy and numeracy proficiency levels with benchmarks and a variety of assessments that are valid and reliable. Balanced systems of assessments can support building meaningful credentials. These new models should result in students building a portfolio of evidence, schools and districts creating better data models, and districts and states developing better quality assurance across K-12 teaching and learning. Using performance assessments and capstones are part of balanced systems that create value and positive learning experiences for students, their schools, and communities.
Why can’t we ask states to support and run multiple plots of innovative assessment and improve data models to support student-centered learning? This would create more data/information on student progress, better data models for equity, increase capacity for balanced systems of assessments for/of learning. Only then will we see the real achievement gaps and be focused on meeting students where they are and achieving true equity. Only then will we have a data model to evaluate resources for adequacy and examine the school funding formulas in states to determine how resources need to flow to support students.
States need room to allow for multiple pilots – with principles and requirements that would drive more data, build better data models, focus on high outcomes for all students, and build local accountability at the same time as improving state and federal accountability.