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Every Student Succeeds Act

Betsy DeVos Approves Testing Flexibility Under ESSA for Two More States

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 17, 2019 2 min read
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The number of states that can try out new ways to test students under the Every Student Succeeds Act just doubled.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Wednesday that she had approved Georgia and North Carolina to try out new assessment methods for the 2019-20 school year, joining Louisiana and New Hampshire as states to successfully apply to participate in this pilot.

Georgia’s approach to the pilot is particularly notable, since it will be trying out not one but two assessment systems for the upcoming academic year. One will rely on adaptive assessments, which present students with questions based on their answers to previous ones, instead of relying on a fixed progression of test questions. The other will rely on “real-time” information on student performance. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s pilot system will rely on customized “routes” based on students’ prior answers on formative assessments. (More on formative assessments here.)

Both states applied for the pilot late last year, under what’s known as the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority. Up to seven states can participate in the pilot, which allows the tests to get a trial run in districts and eventually be used statewide if things work out. However, there hasn’t been a huge rush of states applying to participate. That might be at least in part because the pilot comes with important strings and no federal cash.

“I’m pleased that Georgia and North Carolina are rethinking how to assess student achievement in ways that are more relevant and connected to the classroom,” DeVos said in a statement. “This pilot program gives states that are willing to try a new approach an opportunity to assess student achievement without sacrificing rigor or skirting accountability. I look forward to seeing the impact this study will have on student outcomes.”

Although lawmakers decided to maintain the requirement for annual tests in certain subjects when they approved ESSA in 2015, the pilot reflects the education field’s ongoing reassessment (if you will) of what kind of tests can be most useful to educators and policymakers and provide the best measures of student learning.

In a recent special report on ESSA, we looked at Louisiana’s testing pilot, which ultimately aims to help create a “literate citizenry” in the state.

More details about Georgia’s application here. And more on North Carolina’s pitch here.

Photo: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos walks in with Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., right, to testify before a House Committee on Appropriation subcommittee hearing last year. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP-File)