On July 6, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking. Together, they implement provisions of Title I of ESSA that seek to ensure states administer high-quality assessments that are worth taking and provide meaningful data about student success and equity, while also encouraging states and districts to continue to push the field of assessment forward through innovation. They follow the Testing Action Plan announced by President Obama in October 2015.

Ensuring Fairer and Better Tests Under Title I-A

The first proposed regulation focuses on ensuring states continue to administer tests that are fair measures of student achievement for all students, with particular focus on ensuring states appropriately capture and measure the progress of English Learners and students with disabilities. It also allows states to take advantage of a range of innovative approaches to improve assessment and reduce the burden of tests, such as utilizing computer-adaptive assessment, implementing smaller interim assessments in place of large summative tests, and diverse measures such as performance-based assessments.

The proposed regulation also implements flexibilities such as allowing districts to offer locally selected, nationally recognized high school tests in place of the annual-statewide high school assessment, which could reduce the amount of testing in high schools. This regulation was subject to negotiated rulemaking and achieved consensus among negotiators in the spring, a reflection of the support for the principles of creating flexibilities for states and districts and for ensuring that tests are administered fairly.

Creating Better, More Innovative, Next-Generation Assessments

The second proposed regulation establishes a rigorous, but achievable, process for a small set of states to take advantage of new innovative demonstration authority under Title I, Part B, which will enable up to seven states to re-think their testing systems and pilot new approaches—to develop the next generation of high-quality statewide assessments. Specifically, these demonstration states will be allowed to phase-in and use a new system for accountability initially in a subset of their districts, while maintaining their existing system in the rest.

As innovative assessments are administered and used for accountability and reporting in participating schools, states in the demonstration authority can apply lessons learned from implementation to improve their innovative systems and take these projects to scale, building a new statewide assessment system over five years—one that is high-quality, fair, and worth taking.