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New Issue of the Standard Helps State Boards Weigh State Assessment Systems


Bowing to the realities of the pandemic, states halted annual summative testing this spring, with a federal blessing. Yet with the U.S. Department of Education signaling that they will not waive the required tests for the current school year, there is no better time for state policy leaders to reexamine their assessment systems to address long-standing challenges, say authors in the new issue of NASBE’s State Education Standard.

Some of the issue’s authors advocate for revising or rebalancing assessments; others argue that state boards of education should remain steadfast in their approaches to assessment. Taken together, the articles provide context for important discussions state education leaders will be having in the coming months.

FutureEd’s Lynn Olson frames the issue with a succinct scan of 50 years of federal policy around assessment and accountability, the attendant backlash, and the fracturing of the testing marketplace. She projects that learning loss from school closures will shape state decisions on assessment.

Chester E. Finn Jr. and Eric Hanushek combine research expertise and state board experience to make the case for state leaders to hold onto current assessment regimes for the 2020-21 school year. Doing otherwise means “flying blind, uncertain whether schools are following a flight plan and getting close to the intended destination,” they write.

Chris Domaleski from the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment urges states to rebalance their systems, with attention to coherence, reciprocal support, differentiated accountability, and assessment utility. Abby Javurek and fellow NWEA colleague Jason Mendenhall urge state boards to rethink assessment and map out a system that recognizes students’ varied paces for learning, addresses learning loss due to the pandemic, and allows teachers to modify instruction during the school year in response to interim assessments.

Ellen Forte from edCount explains what can be learned from alternative assessments for students with disabilities and English learners that can create a better assessment system for all. “Instead of debating how many tests are appropriate,” she writes, “state leaders might instead ask why there are not more tests that involve teacher-student interactions, administered at times and in ways that directly support students’ learning.”

Marianne Perie of Measurement in Practice details the history and practice of performance assessments, with questions state boards should ask before adopting them statewide.

Lastly, NASBE’s Joseph Hedger offers a glimpse of five states’ assessment pilots, part of the federal Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority program, while colleague Abigail Potts provides state boards with questions to frame conversations on assessment approval and intersections with state accountability.

Read and share the “next-generation assessment” issue of The State Education Standard.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances.

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