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Test Cases.

We know the arguments against them, but will they change under ESSA?

In many schools, students and teachers will soon breathe a sigh of relief – but not just because school will conclude. Testing will be over.

As the year ends and a new one begins, there are indications that there may be changes over the next few years. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) calls for revisions to the way we do standardized testing, though it is uncertain how it will be interpreted and how it will evolve.

Hilary Scharton, vice president for K-12 education at Canvas, the learning management application used by many school districts, says it will bring changes for the better.

“Educators were excited in 2016 when NCLB (No Child Left Behind Act) switched over to ESSA because of the differences in how states would report student data,” she says.  “One institutionalized high-stakes test led to predictive benchmarking and even more testing for underperforming students, which ultimately resulted in more parents opting out of testing entirely. But now states can develop an assessment system that combines multiple measures and focused on growth rather than benchmarks.”

But Lisa Guisbond, assessment reform analyst at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a nonprofit group known as FairTest that works to end the abuse of standardized tests, fears that the law also may create uncertainty, particularly with parental rights.

“The federal Every Student Succeeds Act— the successor K-12 law to No Child Left Behind — is ambiguous, if not contradictory, in the way it deals with children who opt out of standardized exams,” she writes in the Washington Post.

ESSA allows more use of tests like the ACT or SAT instead of a state tests in high schools and lets states establish a cap on the amount of times students spend taking tests at all levels. It also supports states who want to streamline testing, eliminating unnecessary and duplicative assessments, an provides for more use of adaptive testing.

Scharton also says states are experimenting under a federal government program that allows them to develop “multiple lower stakes, growth-oriented, formative, student-centered assessments” and ways to provide better data structures that would allow shorter, more efficient assessments. That might lead to more innovation.

“Students and teachers are the big winners in these new models,” she says. “Teachers won’t have to resign themselves to waiting until sometime in the summer to see student data. They’ll be able to see what students know at frequent intervals throughout the school year and use that data to drive instruction.” She says data will be collected and used more often improve achievement, and the amount of time spent on testing will decline and innovation will be encouraged.

Those different approaches could include some versions or combinations of the following, according to Anna Kaenetz in her book “The Test. Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing, But You Don't Have To Be”.

Sampling. Using the same test less frequently is one possibility – so that a sample of students takes the tests on a rotating basis to provide an assessment of performance. It would get away from every student every year having to be tested.

Stealth assessment. Over time these show student understanding and progress and can monitor student progress regularly digitally, for instance, though some of the platforms for this are untested.

Multiple measures. Different kinds of data about student progress and school performance -- and more of it – is considered in accountability measures. They could include graduation rates, discipline reports, demographic information, teacher assessments and other student records.

Inspections. In Scotland a mix of reports on student performance is used – then a team of government inspectors visit schools and report on their performance.        

Written by Jim Paterson, Education World Contributing Writer

Jim Paterson is a writer, contributing to a variety of national publications, most recently specializing in education. During a break from writing for a period, he was the head of a school counseling department. (

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