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The State of Assessment: A Look Forward on Innovation in State Testing Systems

Bonnie O’Keefe
Brandon Lewis
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Title image for Bellwether publication "The State of Assessment," July 2019In recent years, political and public pushback to state tests has led many states to retreat from investing in and innovating their assessment systems. This trend put some states at risk of backsliding toward lower-quality assessments that would not serve students or teachers well. But that isn’t the whole story. In this brief, we identify states actively working to improve their assessments and shift their role beyond end-of-year math and reading tests. We also identify trailblazing states that are making big, public reforms around innovation in assessment. These include states applying to federal innovative assessment pilot programs and committing significant resources to new assessment ideas and methods.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers states the opportunity to take the lead in areas of assessment innovation and systemic improvement that have not been at the forefront of public conversation. Many of these opportunities do not require special federal waivers or pilot program permission. Investing in well-rounded, high-quality state assessment systems can benefit students and align with parallel state efforts around teaching and learning.

In our new report “The State of Assessment: A Look Forward on Innovation in State Testing Systems,” we explore several assessment improvement opportunities within reach for states and highlight promising work already underway. These areas include:

  • Interim assessments for accountability
  • Formative assessments to support instruction
  • Shared item banks and new collaborations among states
  • Social studies and science assessments

One positive trend throughout the report is that states are responding to pushback on testing by thinking about ways to build more comprehensive assessment systems to provide educators with information that can truly inform teaching and learning, and also serve the accountability, equity, and transparency purposes for tests required by law. This kind of mind-set tends to take states outside the realm of typical end-of-year reading and math tests.

We recognize that investing in assessments may pose political and financial risks for states, but the examples highlighted in this report suggest reasons for optimism. States should seriously consider the opportunities, benefits, and risks discussed in this report and the importance of high-quality assessment systems for students, teachers, and our educational system as a whole.

Download the full report here or read it in the viewer below.

Correction: An earlier version of this document reported that the Department of Education's competitive grant for state assessments was worth $379 million. The correct value of the grant is $17.6 million. Congress appropriated $378 million for state assessments in both FY 2018 and FY 2019. The majority of those funds were distributed to state agencies via formula grants. $17.6 million was designated for competitive grants for innovation in state assessments. We have corrected this version of the report.