5 assessment policy recommendations for the Biden administration

A nonprofit group is offering expert insight into assessment policy priorities for the incoming presidential administration

The incoming Biden administration and Congress should focus on innovation, flexibility and more relevance to teaching and learning when it comes to assessment policy, according to NWEA.

Following the release of NWEA’s research on the impact of COVID-19 school disruptions on learning, the nonprofit research and assessment provider announced K-12 assessment policy recommendations for the incoming administration.

“The pandemic has illuminated persistent inequities and while statewide assessment and related accountability systems have helped to move the needle somewhat over the past 20 years, these systems have not eliminated opportunity and achievement gaps,” said Aaliyah Samuel, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and Partnerships at NWEA. “Given the impacts of the pandemic, it’s time – now more than ever – to modernize the system to one that is focused on action.”

NWEA’s assessment policy recommendations include:

1. Require statewide assessments in spring 2021 but provide flexibility
This is not the year to use assessments for high-stakes decisions such as school ratings and teacher evaluation, but it is also not the year to cancel state assessments. Spring testing may need to look different and the use of the data should not be “as usual.” Along with opportunity-to-learn data and community input, information from spring tests can shed light on the pandemic’s impact on systems of learning and inform decisions about support and intervention as well as equitable funding and resource allocation.

2. Replace the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA)
Congress and the next administration should not wait for Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization to replace the IADA. Making state assessments less burdensome and more actionable is critical to closing opportunity gaps and fostering equity. Policymakers should quickly fund a new innovation program to begin in 2021 to support innovative statewide assessments that are part of the learning system; aligned to rigorous academic standards; coherent within and across years; efficient in measurement; useful for teachers, families, and students to foster learning; and fair for all students and schools.

3. Align peer review requirements with innovation goals and advancements
Peer review should increase flexibility to allow consideration of assessments that are designed to produce data differently than traditional paper-and pencil or multiple-choice assessments. This may mean rethinking historical assumptions about criteria such as comparability and standardization to incorporate new statistical checks for quality.

4. Support statewide assessments that are more relevant to teaching and learning
The accountability system and associated assessments need to move beyond a function of simply categorizing schools and students into buckets and confirming the same challenges and gaps in outcomes year after year to one that supports and incentivizes the action needed to actually address the challenges. This means less measuring students for measurement sake, and more focus on using data to provide actionable insights to students, parents, teachers, and leaders on how to improve.

5. Promote accountability systems that are responsive to communities and foster next-generation learning and equity
Under the current system, a school serving affluent students and a school serving students with inequitable access to opportunity are viewed the same way based on whether their students are proficient or not, yet the latter school must grow students significantly more in the same amount of time to get students to “proficient.” To avoid accountability systems serving as measures of poverty and racism, the whole picture should be considered, including measures such as fall to spring academic growth – not just annual changes in summative performance.

“Federal and state leaders have an opportunity to reimagine their roles and evolve beyond auditors of education systems to active supporters of improved learning,” said Jason Mendenhall, President of State Solutions Division at NWEA. “The pandemic has moved up the urgency to address these lingering issues and the disconnects between information and action. As systems of teaching and learning evolve, so too should our assessment and accountability systems.”

The full set of recommendations can be found here. The assessment policy recommendations are also being shared directly with state and federal leaders.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione
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