Washington, D.C. — The recent enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA—the K-12 law known until recently as No Child Left Behind—provides a critical opportunity for a reset on student assessments, argues a new report from the Center for American Progress. The report examines the problems with testing in American schools and provides concrete suggestions for how system and school leaders can address these issues. This report builds on a 2014 CAP report titled “Testing Overload in America’s Schools,” which quantified the number of tests students take and the amount of instructional time they take up. It examines the root issues underlying frustration with testing in America and the opportunity that the new education law presents to address these problems.
“While much of the media coverage about testing has focused on the amount of instructional time devoted to testing, we found that communication about tests; testing schedules and logistics; and the limited value proposition of tests are actually bigger issues,” said Catherine Brown, Vice President, Education Policy at CAP. “The Every Student Succeeds Act opens the door for states and school districts to design and implement coherent, aligned testing systems that are used in service of student learning,”
CAP’s research spanned more than six months and included focus groups with parents and teachers; a four-week diary study that included a collection of school communication with parents about testing; and interviews with assessment experts. While much of the public conversation has focused on overtesting, CAP’s research uncovers more systemic issues at the root of the testing problem. The report’s authors found that:
- Parents generally recognize the value of tests but do not believe that tests provide much utility for their individual children.
- State summative tests are often not aligned with the curriculum.
- Test prep is common. Sixty percent of parents in the diary study reported their children participating in test prep at some point during the study. Fifteen percent of parents reported more than three instance of test prep.
- The limits of technology in schools often lengthen testing windows, creating major disruptions in school schedules.
- Results take much too long to come back and, as a result, often do not directly effect schools, classes, or students.
- Communication to parents focuses primarily on logistical details and misses the opportunity to explain the purpose of the test and how the results will be used.
CAP’s report notes that ESSA—which reduces the stakes of tests for schools and teachers; gives states substantially more autonomy over how they define success; and supports innovative approaches to assessment—provides an opportunity for states and districts to address these issues. The report concludes with recommendations for states, school districts, schools, and the U.S. Department of Education.
- States should develop principles—informed by experts—around assessments; conduct alignment studies; provide support for districts in choosing high-quality formative and interim tests; demand that test results are delivered in a timely fashion, like SAT results; increase the value of tests for schools, parents, and students; take advantage of the new ESSA assessment pilot program to design and implement truly innovative assessment regimes; and develop better communication tools.
- School districts should identify overlapping testing programs; build local capacity to support teachers’ understanding of assessment design and administration; create coherent systems of high-quality formative and interim assessments that are aligned to state standards; better communicate with parents about tests; and tackle logistical issues to minimize disruption to learning.
- Schools should make the actual test-taking process as convenient and pleasant as possible for children by, for instance, permitting bathroom breaks and breaks between testing sections; hold communications events, such as annual explain-the-test nights; work with teachers to communicate with parents; and cease the use of unnecessary test prep.
- The U.S. Department of Education should develop regulations for ESSA implementation that support high-quality assessments; provide strong technical assistance to states wanting to submit applications for the innovative assessment pilot program; and spread best practice and research next-generation assessments.
Click here to read “Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act: Toward a Coherent, Aligned Assessment System” by Catherine Brown, Ulrich Boser, Scott Sargrad, and Max Marchitello.
For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Allison Preiss at email@example.com or 202.478.6331.