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Aurora Institute

Redesigning Assessments Around Student-Centered Learning in ESEA

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Susan Gentz

Issues: Federal Policy, Harness Opportunities in ESSA, Create Space to Pilot Systems of Assessments


On December 2, the US House of Representatives took an historic step to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), voting 359-64 to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The US Senate will vote on final passage this week, and the President is expected to sign it into law before the end of the year. ESSA makes changes to federal assessment requirements that will open up opportunities for competency education and personalized learning.

Since its last reauthorization (as No Child Left Behind, NCLB) in 2001, ESEA has required states to use single point-in-time “autopsies” of student proficiency. These tests do not provide timely, relevant data to inform teaching and learning. That’s why urgent Congressional action was needed to permit states to design accountability models that use assessments built around student-centered learning.

The shift to student-centered learning requires assessments to inform teaching and learning. At the same time, annual information from these assessments must shine a light on student achievement and learning gaps. Personalized, competency-based systems require multiple measures of learning in real time.

A growing number of states are developing new assessment systems designed to support competency-based learning. Until now, there has not been a clear path forward in Federal law to approval for these state systems. ESSA enables this through the Innovative Assessment Pilot.

Learn more: A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change, iNACOL Joins 24 Groups in Applauding Congressional Efforts to Align Federal K-12 Education Law to Personalized, Competency-Based Learning, and Accountability for College and Career Readiness: Developing a New Paradigm.

Recommendations for Policymakers

The iNACOL Federal Policy Frameworks 2015 urged Congress to make changes to ESEA to redesign assessments around student-centered learning. We were pleased to see all of iNACOL’s recommendations incorporated into ESSA. These recommendations included:

  • ESEA should allow all state assessment systems to:
    • Measure individual student growth;
    • Use multiple measures of student learning from multiple points in time to determine summative scores; and
    • Use adaptive assessments that can measure students where they are in their learning, and not just on grade level.
  • ESEA should establish an Innovative Assessment Pilot to allow states to apply for permission to develop rigorous assessment systems that better align with student-centered, competency-based learning models.

What recommendations would you provide federal policymakers? Please comment or Tweet us, @nacol.

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