Although SIPS has deep roots in well-grounded conceptualizations of assessment design, validity evaluation, and education policy and practice, it is extremely timely given the context of the new reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), known as the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA). ESSA has changed the assessment landscape by shifting more discretion and responsibility for state assessment and accountability systems to the states themselves, giving states an opportunity to explore how to best articulate goals for students, and how to best measure progress towards these goals. While many assessment provisions remain unchanged under ESSA reauthorization, states and districts are now afforded new flexibilities to implement innovative approaches to assessment and accountability.
Federal Requirements for State Assessments
Under ESSA, states must continue annual statewide tests in reading/language arts and mathematics to all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as well as in science at least once in each of grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. State assessments must align with the full breadth and depth of state academic content standards and measure student achievement based on challenging college- and career-ready state academic achievement standards or based on alternate academic achievement standards. The ESSA reauthorization affirms the importance of statewide assessment as a way to provide annual measures of student progress, while shifting away from standardized testing and allowing for flexibility in states’ approaches to assessment.
Provisions as outlined in Title I, parts A and B, of ESSA aim to clarify new flexibilities for states and districts to ensure that state assessments continue to be fair, relevant, and high-quality, provide more useful and timely feedback to educators, parents, and students, and serve as models for adoption by other states. These new flexibilities offer states the option to use a variety of new assessment models, including performance tasks and simulations, competency-based assessments, computer-adaptive assessments, and multiple assessments (e.g., curriculum-embedded, interim, or through-course tests) administered throughout the year. ESSA encourages innovative approaches to assessment that reduce duplicative testing and ensure that assessment results provide transparent, consistent information about student achievement.
While ESSA provides states with increased flexibility in the assessment models they choose to implement, states must apply Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in their assessment design and development to the extent practicable. UDL principles promote accessibility by reducing barriers and providing alternate ways for students to receive information and demonstrate knowledge. States must assess all students fairly, including students with disabilities and English learners, and all assessments must produce results that are valid, reliable, and comparable for all students and subgroups of students.
The requirements for assessment models under ESSA include: 1) producing an annual summative determination of grade-level achievement aligned to state standards, 2) measuring a student’s academic proficiency based on challenging state academic standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled, 3) allowing for disaggregated assessment data (by gender, racial and ethnic group, disability status, etc.) and individual score reports, and 4) providing understandable information to parents, including those with disabilities or limited English proficiency.
ESSA specifies that statewide assessments must adhere to high expectations for students’ college- and career-readiness, and must measure higher-order thinking skills, including reasoning, analysis, problem solving, and communication. To ensure that assessments are rigorous, fair, and of high quality, states must submit evidence to the Department of Education that their assessment system meets statutory and regulatory requirements. In addition, states must make publicly available the evidence that assessments meet nationally recognized testing standards and quality requirements.
With the reauthorization of ESSA, states have the flexibility to design their own comprehensive accountability systems that measure student achievement and school quality using multiple measures beyond test scores (e.g., student engagement, access to and completion of advanced coursework, and school climate and safety). These state-designed systems must ensure that all students count for the purposes of accountability. Accountability systems must aim to improve a state’s capacity to identify and improve student learning in the state’s lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, lower high school dropout rates, and improve performance in schools in which any group of students is consistently underperforming under the State’s accountability system.
Accountability measures under ESSA include: state-developed interim progress measurements, state-developed summative determinations and transparent reporting on all individual indicators, state-developed strategies for ensuring adequate assessment participation rates (at least 95%), and state-developed college- and career-ready standards. States must provide their accountability plan to the Department of Education for review.