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Aurora Institute

Rethinking Assessments for Student-Centered Learning

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Dale Frost, Maria Worthen, Susan Gentz

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

As a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) progresses in Congress, there is an opportunity to reshape federal assessment requirements around student-centered learning. The current ESEA requires states to base accountability for schools on end-of-year, summative testing that only provides an “autopsy” of learning and will not drive the system toward transformation, equity or continuous improvement.


This summer, the House of Representatives passed a bill to reauthorize ESEA, called the Student Success Act. Meanwhile, the Senate passed its version, the Every Child Achieves Act, on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote.

Starting this fall, leadership from the education committees in both chambers will meet in a Conference Committee to reconcile the two bills, taking one step closer to final passage.

Encouraging Provisions in the Senate Bill

The Senate bill takes significant steps to allow states to redesign systems of assessments (that are used for school accountability purposes) around student-centered learning. All states would be able to use systems of assessments that measure individual student growth, use computer adaptive assessments that can include out-of-grade-level items to understand where students really are in their learning, and to use multiple measures from multiple points in time for accountability purposes (which opens up the possibility of assessing students when ready).

An Innovative Assessment Pilot in the Senate bill would provide a clear path forward for states wishing to request additional flexibility to design systems of assessments that support competency-based and personalized learning. (See A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education for more on redesigning assessments).

The Senate bill continues to require annual assessment of students in ELA and math, grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, so we will continue to see annual determinations of student achievement, but with greater flexibility in how states can assess student learning. To obtain these annual determinations, states could potentially use the results of multiple measures of student learning from multiple points of the year.

iNACOL has long advocated that these changes to assessments in ESEA are of critical importance to the field of blended, online, and competency-based education.

Important Opportunity for the Conference Committee

ESEA reauthorization is long overdue; the current law’s authorization expired in 2007. Outdated assessment requirements require states to use single point-in-time “autopsies” of student proficiency. These tests do not provide timely, relevant data to inform teaching and learning. Urgent Congressional action is needed to permit states to design next generation accountability models that use assessments built around student-centered learning.

The Conference report should include the Senate bill’s assessment provisions, including measuring individual student growth, allowing the use of multiple measures of student learning, and permitting states to assess students where they are with adaptive assessments that identify learning gaps. Congress should provide a clear path forward for states to implement systems of assessments that include competency-based performance assessments through an Innovative Assessment Pilot.

Congressional Action Needed

Every year, iNACOL surveys our 4,500 members and travels the country to learn about promising practices and identify policy barriers that limit innovation for equity. Year after year, we hear that there is a critical need to align state systems of assessments to student-centered learning, and to redesign accountability to support and drive improvements in next generation learning models. However, states cannot change these systems without Congressional action—ESEA must be rewritten to provide this needed flexibility.

To track these developments and learn more about how you can get involved, make sure you are following @nacol on Twitter and sign up for our weekly newsletter here.