The Education Dept. (DoEd) is reversing a 15-year emphasis on student testing, advocated by the old No Child Left Behind law, and is now recommending ways for schools to identify and eliminate low-quality, redundant or unhelpful testing.
The switch represents a stunning turnaround for the department, which since 2001 has touted regular high-stakes testing at all grade levels. The tedious testing regimes have been unpopular while their efficacy is unsupported by any research.
“High-quality assessments give parents, educators and students useful information about whether students are developing the critical thinking and problem solving skills they need to succeed in life,” said acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King. “But there has to be a balance, and despite good intentions, there are too many places around the country where the balance still isn’t quite right.”
The guidance outlines how federal dollars may be used to help reduce testing in schools, while still ensuring that educators and parents have the information they need on students’ progress to improve learning. The guidance underscores innovative work already happening across the country and provides examples of how states and districts can use their federal funding to explore new strategies for ensuring the use of high-quality, useful and well-constructed assessments.
The document builds on an October 2015 announcement by President Obama and a set of principles the department released. Last fall, the Council of the Great City Schools released the results of a comprehensive, two-year study (http://tinyurl.com/ouc8pv7) on the scope of testing in schools. Some states and districts continue to look for creative ways to decrease testing burden on students and teachers while ensuring that new assessments measure vital skills.
While this guidance addresses use of federal money under No Child Left Behind during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, the department will provide further clarification in coming months on how dollars under the newly adopted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) can be used to support the reduction of unnecessary testing. The new law takes additional steps to support smart, effective assessments and to reduce over-testing, including efforts to encourage states to limit classroom time spent on statewide standardized testing and to strive for continued improvement and innovation. ESSA encourages a smarter approach to testing by allowing the use of multiple measures of student learning and progress, along with other indicators of student success, to make school accountability decisions. It also includes support for state efforts to audit and streamline their current assessment systems.
“As a teacher, you know that information on your students’ progress is crucial to tailoring instruction to their specific needs and to understanding whether a lesson has worked. As a school leader, you need tools to ensure that every student is learning and to support the growth of your staff,” King said. “And yet, in both roles, you’re also always seeking more opportunities for quality instructional time for your students.”
In his FY 2016 budget proposal, President Obama called on Congress to provide support to continue and grow this work. The President’s budget included $403 million for state assessments to provide additional resources to states to support the effective implementation of assessments that are aligned to college- and career-ready standards that will help ensure that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in college and the workplace. In his FY 2017 budget proposal, Obama repeated those priorities.
In addition to this guidance, the department has also awarded resources through the Enhanced Assessment Grants competition to support the development of better, less burdensome assessments (http://tinyurl.com/jndjxay).