For Immediate Release: April 5, 2016
Contact: Renee Rybak Lang, renee.lang@nasbe.org, 703-740-4841

State Boards Urged to Ask Nine Questions before Choosing State Assessment

Washington, DC — Over the next 18 months, states will be making major decisions about their state assessment system. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives states important flexibility in how and when to assess students, and which types of tests to use. According to a new analysis from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), state boards of education have the primary authority to make these calls in 31 states.

“Regardless of the extent  of their authority, state boards play a significant role in the development and adoption of coherent, balanced statewide assessment systems, including summative tests,” argue NASBE Executive Director Kristen Amundson, and Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Innovation in Education in Take It Off the Consent Agenda. They urge comprehensive state board involvement in the development of state assessment systems and lay out nine big questions board members should address before they adopt a new state assessment system.

  1. Who has the authority over the state assessment system? In 31 states, the board has the primary authority over selection of summative tests. Even in states where the state chief or state education agency has primary responsibility (14 states), or the authority is shared between the state chief and state board (6 states), the state board frequently plays a role.
  2. What do you want your state test to do? Clearly defining what a test is designed to do is a first task for state boards: Should it measure student growth? Should it be incorporated into teacher evaluations? Ask for evidence of quality and validity, and involve various stakeholders in the process.
  3. How well aligned is your state test to state standards?  Tests can and do shape what teachers teach in the classroom. If the state assessment is not aligned to state learning standards a state has adopted, teachers over time will focus less on the standards and more on the material covered in the test. State boards must measure the alignment of any test they select to the standards they’ve already established.
  4. Do the tests ask students to demonstrate higher-order thinking? A high-quality assessment should require all students to demonstrate the range of thinking skills, including higher order skills called for in state standards.
  5. Are you adopting high-quality assessments? Do assessments in your state align to college and career standards? Are they measuring students’ abilities to think critically and synthesize material from multiple sources? Do questions ask students to do more  than fill in a bubble?
  6. How and when will test results be reported? The results of the state test should be timely, transparent, and easily accessible to teachers, parents, and policymakers. Absent this, teachers cannot use test results to improve their instructional practice, policymakers can’t make informed decisions on testing, and many parents will remain skeptical of the value in testing as a tool to help their kids learn.
  7. What flexibility does your state want to incorporate into your testing system? ESSA gives states significant flexibility over the type of assessment used for accountability and how it’s administered. State boards must examine these choices carefully.
  8. What is the capacity of schools and districts to administer tests? School districts without sufficient technology resources may have a hard time administering tests efficiently. States should assess districts’ capacity to administer tests in the least disruptive way to normal school operations.
  9. How much time are districts spending on assessment? Most overtesting stems from district decisions to use interim tests as a way of diagnosing and addressing student learning issues prior to summative tests. States should examine and audit district testing practices to eliminate unnecessary and duplicative assessments and ensure they align with learning standards.

Choosing an assessment is not a routine or noncontroversial item on any state board’s agenda. “If state board members work in a transparent, inclusive way, they can develop a system that provides real value and useful information to parents and guardians, teachers, and community members, and thus build public support for the state’s public schools,” write Amundson and Wilhoit.

Read Take It Off the Consent Agenda: Nine Questions State Boards of Education Should Ask about State Assessment Systems.

The National Association of State Boards of Education represents America’s state and territorial boards of education. Our principal objectives are to strengthen state leadership in education policymaking, advocate equality of access to educational opportunity, promote excellence in the education of all students, and ensure responsible lay governance of education. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.

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