The following is a company-submitted press release and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of School Planning & Management magazine.

Education Department Releases Proposed Regulations to Encourage Better and Fairer Tests, Reduce Burden of Testing

Washington, D.C. — One essential part of educating students successfully is assessing their progress. Done well and thoughtfully, assessments are tools for learning and promoting equity. They provide necessary information for educators, families, the public, and students themselves to measure progress and improve outcomes for all learners. Done poorly, in excess, or without clear purpose, however, they take valuable time away from teaching and learning, draining creative approaches from our classrooms.

Many states have done important work in recent years to improve and reduce testing, but in too many places, redundant or ineffective assessments still consume valuable instructional time without clear purpose or benefit.

In October, President Obama announced a Testing Action Plan, putting forward a set of principles and steps to restore balance to America’s classrooms, protecting the vital role that good assessments play in guiding progress for students while providing help in unwinding practices that have burdened classroom time or not served students, educators, or families well. That plan acknowledged the role that this Administration has, at times, had to play in the overuse of testing and set forth a new vision for the role assessments should play in schools.

Consistent with the President’s plan, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ensures annual information about students’ progress for parents, educators, and policymakers while helping states and districts improve and reduce testing. The law commits resources for states to improve their assessment systems by reviewing their existing assessments to ensure that each test is high-quality, maximizes instructional goals, has a clear purpose, and is designed to help students demonstrate progress. In addition, the law creates flexibility for state and local leaders to think creatively – beyond just test scores and graduation rates – about how to measure school quality. The law also enables state and local leaders and educators to eliminate redundant or unnecessary tests, by auditing their assessment systems and to start piloting innovative approaches to next generation assessments.

ESSA presents an opportunity to reclaim the promise of a high-quality, well-rounded education for every student by reducing the focus on testing, while ensuring critical protections for all students. Today, as part of its ongoing effort to seize that opportunity through implementation of the law, the U.S. Department of Education is releasing two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). Together, they implement provisions of Title I of ESSA that seek to ensure states administer high-quality assessments that are worth taking and provide meaningful data about student success and equity, while also encouraging states and districts to continue to push the field of assessment forward through innovation.

“Across the country, states, districts, and educators are leading the way in developing innovative assessments that measure students’ academic progress; promote equity by highlighting achievement gaps, especially for our traditionally underserved students; and spur improvements in teaching and learning for all our children,” stated U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “Our proposed regulations build on President Obama’s plan to strike a balance around testing, providing additional support for states and districts to develop and use better, less burdensome assessments that give a more well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing, while providing parents, teachers, and communities with critical information about students’ learning.”

Ensuring Fairer and Better Tests Under Title I-A

The first proposed regulation focuses on ensuring states continue to administer tests that are fair measures of student achievement for all students, with particular focus on ensuring states appropriately capture and measure the progress of English Learners and students with disabilities. It also allows states to take advantage of a range of innovative approaches to improve assessment and reduce the burden of tests, such as utilizing computer-adaptive assessment, implementing smaller interim assessments in place of large summative tests, and diverse measures such as performance-based assessments.  The proposed regulation also implements flexibilities such as allowing districts to offer locally selected, nationally recognized high school tests in place of the annual-statewide high school assessment, which could reduce the amount of testing in high schools. This regulation was subject to negotiated rulemaking and achieved consensus among negotiators in the spring, a reflection of the support for the principles of creating flexibilities for states and districts and for ensuring that tests are administered fairly.

Creating Better, More Innovative, Next-Generation Assessments

The second proposed regulation establishes a rigorous, but achievable, process for a small set of states to take advantage of new innovative demonstration authority under Title I, Part B, which will enable up to seven states to re-think their testing systems and pilot new approaches—to develop the next generation of high-quality statewide assessments. Specifically, these demonstration states will be allowed to phase-in and use a new system for accountability initially in a subset of their districts, while maintaining their existing system in the rest.  As innovative assessments are administered and used for accountability and reporting in participating schools, states in the demonstration authority can apply lessons learned from implementation to improve their innovative systems and take these projects to scale, building a new statewide assessment system over 5 years-one that is high-quality, fair, and worth taking.

For more details, go to www.ed.gov

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