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It’s Time for a New Era of Assessments

ESSA marks an opportunity for states to rethink how they evaluate student learning.

For many people, innovation equals technology. It comes as no surprise, then, that changes in how we conduct assessments have largely focused on transitioning high-stakes testing to a digital format. 

There’s more work to be done, though, if we truly want to improve assessments and make a positive impact on learning.

Since the No Child Left Behind era, the predominate format for assessments has been high-stakes tests. These often act as more of an autopsy than an opportunity for intervention. Students take the assessment and then advance to the next grade with their gaps in knowledge unaddressed.

Instead, assessments should be a continuous loop of feedback that present opportunities for continuous improvement. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) encourages innovation in this area, allowing states to implement multiple types of assessments – including performance-based, competency-based, adaptive, summative and formative – and use them for federal accountability purposes. There is no reason a district couldn’t use any combination of these assessments to meet students where they are in their learning.

While ESSA allows for these opportunities, many state plans submitted to the United States Department of Education don’t take advantage of them. 

However, there is one more opportunity for states that want to create innovative assessment models. A pilot program, “The Innovative Accountability and Assessment Demonstration Authority,” was created so states ready to take innovative assessments live statewide would have the opportunity to do so. The pilot does have limitations – only seven states (or consortium of seven states) will be approved for the first round of participants.

The Innovative Assessment Pilot is modeled after the statewide New Hampshire Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) program. While it is important to note that New Hampshire is small in population – and larger states will have different challenges – it does not diminish the incredible work being done in the state. 

The United States Department of Education recently released the application for states interested in participating in this pilot. The deadline for transmittal of applications is April 2, 2018. Experts say that we shouldn’t be surprised if only a few states get approved on the first round, but at the very least, this pilot can help begin conversations to create student-centered learning environments and use assessments to spur learning.