Does the bell toll for annual assessments?

Does the bell toll for annual assessments?

By Dale Chu

The Aurora Institute, formerly known as iNACOL, recently released five state policy recommendations for governors aimed at the future of education, training, and the future of work. What caught my eye was that one of these recommendations focused on pushing the envelope of state assessment systems. Specifically, the Aurora Institute calls out the four states currently participating in the ESSA assessment pilot (a.k.a. IADA, or the Innovation Assessment Demonstration Authority) and highlights a new law in my home state of Colorado that encourages districts to pilot “student-centered,” “next-generation” accountability models. To wit, The 74 just published an opinion piece diving into how these efforts are progressing.

All of this talk of innovation in assessments and accountability is fine and well. In this case, the language of the Aurora Institute’s document is both broad and benign enough that it can simultaneously be read as meaningful and meaningless. In some respect, this is by design and necessity given that we’re still early on in the process of vetting potential alternatives to statewide annual assessments. As an example, NWEA announced their intention to develop an assessment solution that ostensibly obviates the need for a summative end-of-year test. (I recently spoke with NWEA’s Senior Director of Large Scale Assessment Solutions Abby Javurek about their new effort in a two-part interview for Assessment HQ: Part 1 and Part 2).

Few would dispute the limitations of today’s assessment systems. What should be cause for concern is where all of this might be headed vis-à-vis when ESEA is eventually reauthorized. To achieve the Aurora Institute’s goals, a recent piece in Forbes advises states and governors to “curtail standardized testing.” I understand that today’s focus on grade-level summative tests can inadvertently stifle new ideas, but it’s a slippery slope from carving out space for experimental pilots to a wholesale revocation of annual testing as required under federal law—as the author suggests in the Forbes article. For civil rights advocates and others interested in the equity safeguards afforded by standardized testing, this well-intentioned enthusiasm for “better” assessments merits close attention.

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