A Look at Testing and Assessments under the ESSA

This is the third in a series of blog posts that will look  at the changes made by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal law that replaces No Child Left Behind, and what they might mean for Wisconsin schools.

As noted in the previous post,  under the ESSA states must continue to test students in reading or language arts and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and must break out the data for whole schools, plus different “subgroups” of students (English-learners, students in special education, racial minorities, those in poverty). Science testing will continue to be required at least once during grades 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12.

The ESSA gives local school districts an option to use a nationally recognized test at the high school level (e.g., the SAT or ACT) in place of the state assessment, provided this is approved by the state’s education agency (e.g., the Wisconsin DPI).  (This will not be much of a change for Wisconsin, which administers the ACT Aspire and ACT tests to high school students in grades 9-11.)

The ESSA bill also provides for an assessment pilot in which up to seven states (or consortia of states, each of no more than 4 states) can try out  innovative assessment systems.  These systems may include “competency-based assessments, instructionally embedded assessments, interim assessments, cumulative year-end assessments, or performance-based assessments that combine into an annual summative determination for a student, which may be administered through computer adaptive assessments as well as assessments that validate when students are ready to demonstrate mastery or proficiency and allow for differentiated student support based on individual learning needs.”

Under the ESSA states must still test at least 95 percent of students each year; however, states would be free to craft their own opt-out laws. Test participation must be included in accountability calculations as stand-alone factor; it is no longer an indicator. States will have to figure out how they will include participation in their calculations, as well as how to respond to school districts that do not reach the threshold.

To address concerns about over-testing, the ESSA permits (but does not require) states to set targets for total time spent on testing. In addition, states and school districts may (but are not required to) apply for federal grants to audit their testing systems, improve assessment delivery systems and schedules, and eliminate redundant or unnecessary tests.