Tests aren’t making the grade anymore — but states have a chance to fix them.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states are being challenged to create new, improved, innovative tests that don’t look like the standard multiple-choice exams of previous generations. But while federal officials are urging states to create tests that are no longer one size fits all, some experts questioned whether some states have the capability to develop high-quality new exams.
Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, said state officials need to rethink what testing looks like.
“There are pockets of innovation” in some states, she said in an interview with EdScoop. “If you’re another state, you may be thinking about this, but you’re not ready to make a shift.”
The Department of Education recently announced a $9 million grant competition to encourage states to think outside of the box, incorporate technology into tests and measure student achievement by 21st century standards. Applications are due in late September, and about three to six winners will be announced in January.
Education Secretary John King said states can use the grants for “the development of innovative items.”
“They could use it to develop items that leverage technology in new and creative ways,” he said earlier in the month during the announcement. “They could use it to develop items that might involve simulations or projects.”
King added that states can also “rethink the structure of their assessment program” by replacing one-time, annual exams with interim assessments throughout the year.
“The more [teachers] can start looking at measures throughout the year rather than waiting until the end of the year, they can adjust their instruction for them,” said Jason Mendenhall, senior vice president for strategic solutions at the Northwest Evaluation Association, which creates tests for schools.
States “can look at academic proficiency, but also non-academic indicators like attendance, school safety, access to physical education and the arts,” he continued. “That’s a really healthy direction, to get more three-dimensional views of students.”
At the heart of what advocates want is “competency-based testing,” a more personalized view of how students are digesting lessons. This allows for a more equitable way of measuring student success, especially for those who are minorities, English language learners or students with disabilities.
Experts said teachers should be able to see how students’ progress in reading is influencing how they are performing in math, and how their social and emotional behavior is impacting their academic performance.
“I think ESSA actually allows us to expand a mindset that we’ve had for a long time, which is helping individual students learn,” said Mendenhall, referring to the federal law.
States will have to move from a “factory model,” Patrick said, to a more individualized approach.
“Our system right now has an opportunity to rethink and reflect on what it means for raising achievement for all,” she said.