Important Changes in High School Testing Allowed in Every Student Succeeds Act

By Catherine Gewertz — January 04, 2016 1 min read
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The new version of the No Child Left Behind Act has gotten a lot of attention for shifting a lot of power over education decisions back to the states. But a little-noticed provision of the law could profoundly change the nature and meaning of high school testing.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, now going by the nickname ESSA, allows states and districts to dump their current state tests to measure high school achievement, and use college entrance exams such as the ACT or SAT instead.

This move might not sound like much on the surface, but it would represent a major shift in how achievement is measured, and in what kind of achievement is being measured. And in doing that, it would suggest an important change in what we think high school is for.

I explore these issues in a story posted today on

There’s been a lot of action on the high school testing front, as we’ve been reporting to you on this blog. Even with major questions still unanswered—such as whether the SAT and ACT are valid ways to measure mastery of states’ academic standards—states are piling on to substitute them for their previous state assessments.

Seven states have won permission from the U.S. Department of Education to use those exams for the accountability reports required by federal law. (Check my story to find out which ones!) And a growing list of states are ditching tests like PARCC and Smarter Balanced to use the SAT or ACT as their high school test.

A clear advantage is a reduction in testing time: States can make these widely known tests do double duty, since many students take them anyway. But experts caution that rushing to substitute the ACT or SAT for standards-based tests comes with big caveats, too. And without tending to those questions, states run the risk of having invalid results or being unclear about exactly what they’re measuring. And that says something important about our education system, since what you measure, and how, reflects what you value.

Photo: Seventh graders at Marshall Simonds Middle School in Burlington, Mass., review a PARCC practice test in 2014 to get acquainted with the format before field-testing the computer-based assessments. --Gretchen Ertl for Education Week-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.