U.S. Ed. Dept. Issues Guidance on ‘Double-Testing’ Flexibility

By Catherine Gewertz — September 17, 2013 3 min read
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In new guidance issued Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education offered states the chance to suspend their current tests this spring, as long as they administer field tests being designed by the two common-assessment consortia in math and English/language arts. States that use that option will not have to report the results of the field tests, according to the federal guidance on statewide testing.

In a letter to state schools superintendents, Deborah S. Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, explained the options for states as they transition their testing regimens to reflect the Common Core State Standards.

The guidance is intended to help states facing potential “double testing” of their students in 2013-2014 by giving their own tests as well as field tests of the assessments being designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. It aims to provide more detail on the testing flexibility that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered initially in June.

In her letter, Delisle said states can give either their own tests, or a consortium field test, as long as each student takes a complete test in both math and English/language arts. States that use the field tests will not be required to report results, she wrote.

“A field test is not designed to be a valid and reliable measure of student achievement; rather, it is designed to help the test developers evaluate whether the tests, individual items, and the technology platform work as intended before the first operational administration,” the letter says. “As a result, neither an SEA [state department of education] nor its local educational agencies [LEAs] are required to report field-test results—either individual student results to parents and teachers or on State or local [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] report cards.”

States and districts must, however, continue to report results, including progress toward their stated goals, for students who take the state’s own tests. And regardless of whether they choose their own state tests or the field tests, they must report participation rates, in the aggregate and for subgroups.

UPDATE: The guidance didn’t directly address the question of whether a state can set aside its current math and English/language arts tests for 2014 and use only field tests, as California is planning to do, despite Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s warning that doing so could cost it part of its Title I money as a penalty.

When pressed on whether the guidance allows a state to use only field tests for all tested students in 2014, a department spokesman responded only that it “allows states to give either the field test or the current state test to an individual student.”

California officials, however, concluded that the federal guidance does not look kindly on their plan. In a statement, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education Chairman Michael W. Kirst said that their plan, embodied in legislation awaiting Gov. Jerry’s Brown’s signature, “would not meet the requirements outlined in today’s guidance,” but that they continue to believe it is the best way to proceed.

“While this may put California technically and temporarily out of compliance with federal testing mandates, we’re confident that we can work with our colleagues in Washington to effectively manage this transition and arrive at our shared goal: a modern assessment and accountability system that supports teaching and learning in the classroom and prepares every child for a bright future,” the statement said.

In addition to asking for “double-testing flexibility,” the guidance said that states that use the field tests may request “determination flexibility,” which allows them to hold their schools’ accountability designations—such as whether they are “priority” turnaround schools—steady for a year.

The department also made it clear that any state whose schools are participating in the consortia field tests—or in the field tests of consortia working on tests for students with significant cognitive disabilities—may request the testing and accountability-designation flexibility.

The department will post template applications on its website Tuesday for states that have already obtained waivers from key portion of the No Child Left Behind Act, and for states that have not yet done so.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.