Education leaders are evaluating new learning environments and policies to secure healthy and thriving schools this fall. We’ve yet to determine whether they will also address inequities, bias, and racism in teaching, assessment, and schooling so we can enter a new era in education.
In March, the US Department of Education waived federal assessment and accountability requirements, and AASA reported that 75–83% of education leaders feel assessment and accountability flexibilities would be helpful. The more important consideration is how targeted statewide test flexibilities can make way for new school evaluation methods in preparation for the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act in the future, moving us from recovery to reform.
How states can lead
Calls to consider additional flexibility are warranted, but there are more constructive ways for states to lead assessment and accountability reform. Here are just a few.
- Invest in remote proctoring. Hybrid learning is here to stay, and tests administered online are a necessary option. Concerns, including privacy and security, are already being addressed by NWEA, the Association of Test Publishers, and Educational Testing Services. We’re ready for remote testing and are here to support all schools using or interested in using MAP® Growth™.
- Build in equity and accessibility. Assessment innovation aims to establish measurement, standards, and curriculum cohesion, useful for accelerating learning in an unusual year. Assessment design with equity and accessibility in mind will ensure students with disabilities can access instruction aligned with data-informed individualized education plan (IEP) goals.
- Support innovative assessment. The pause in summative tests this spring caused a problematic and unavoidable data gap, creating an opportunity for superintendents to leverage new arguments for redefining the implementation and uses of statewide tests moving forward. Education communities can rethink how statewide tests support instruction, scaffolding, and differentiated pacing through competency-based and through-year models.
- Be intentional about growth and proficiency. States can reevaluate how they measure and evaluate academic growth and how it’s weighted in tandem with measures of academic proficiency.
- Build transparency with seasonal learning trajectories. Longitudinal data reveals students’ progress relative to strategic inputs. Evaluations of school performance using data from fall to spring offers different implications than spring-to-spring measures. State leaders can develop transparency and trust with stakeholders using learning trajectories.
- Use long-term growth for school improvement goals. Even though states lack spring 2020 data, they can measure student growth over two years, instead of just one, by using data from 2019 and 2021. The two-year approach can be applied to differing state growth models and can be disaggregated by subgroups, which is important for understanding how diverse communities are impacted by the global health pandemic.
The role of federalism in accountability reform
Likened to fiscal decisions, the federal government must make accountability decisions using a scalpel, not an ax. Instead of providing blanket waivers, the US Department of Education can:
- Fund assessments aligned with distance and hybrid learning. Current funding streams (i.e., IADA and CGSA) provide some pathways to assessment innovation, but this year is an opportunity for the federal government to incentivize new approaches to testing better aligned with hybrid and distance learning.
- Incentivize research partnerships. The US Department of Education can incentivize states to collaborate with research institutions that are identifying optimal methods for addressing the challenges of distance and hybrid learning. Statewide research partnerships are useful for rapid design, exploration, and innovative testing features that can eventually be scaled.
- Maintain integrity to accountability laws. The federal government should commit early to refraining from providing blanket waiver opportunities for spring 2021 testing. Until we know more about school closures next year, blanket waivers are a dangerous overstep, especially for historically underserved students. Instead, the federal government can apply a continuum of targeted flexibilities for accountability provisions and maintain integrity to the spirit and intent of the law.
- Incentivize and elevate states that are reducing test redundancy. The growing needs of students and inconsistent school environments require summative assessment to move closer to instruction. To account for changing needs in summative testing systems with regard to innovation and reducing test redundancy, the US Department of Education should consider flexibilities for peer review standards.
Now is the time
Policymakers should refrain from sweeping waivers. As state leaders move into uncertain phases of reopening guidance and implementation, statewide data will play a vital role in illustrating a clear path. In addition to protecting students’ civil rights to quality education, assessments will guide fiscal planning and instructional leadership. But the education community must be intentional about what data is needed and how it is used.