US Dept of Education Moves to Ease K-12 Testing Requirements

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A new set of proposed assessment regulations have been announced by the US Department of Education under the Every Student Succeeds Act in an effort to push states into reconsidering how they test their students:

“Our proposed regulations build on President Obama’s plan to strike a balance around testing, providing additional support for states and districts to develop and use better, less burdensome assessments that give a more well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing, while providing parents, teachers and communities with critical information about students’ learning,” Education Secretary John King said in a statement.

The new law will require students across the country to be tested annually in math and reading between grades three and eight, as well as once more in high school.  Students must also be tested in science once in grades three through five, once in grades six through eight, and once in high school for a total of three times.

Student achievement scores will also need to be submitted by states and school districts in a number of subgroups, including race, disability, English-learner status, and income level.  This requirement is the only existing carry-over from the previous federal education law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

While states will be given the option to choose their own annual tests, additional testing provisions look to push states into limiting the number of tests they administer in addition to the federal annual requirements.  By doing so, the law hopes to limit the number of duplicate tests or those of a lesser quality.

A previous study of the largest urban school districts across the country found that although only required to take 17 tests by the federal government, students take an average of 112 tests between pre-kindergarten and high school graduation, writes Lauren Camera for US News.

States will also be afforded flexibility in the ability to rethink and experiment with their annual tests.  Proposed regulations released last week show that seven states would be allowed to participate in a pilot program that would let certain school districts in each state use different tests than are in use at surrounding districts in order to gain a better picture of student progress for accountability purposes, writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.

“An initial review of the assessment pilot regulations indicates that the U.S. Department of Education has sought to balance the need to ensure that any pilot would give all kids the same opportunities, while leaving room for states to innovate,” said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

King noted the amount of work involved for states looking to replace the tests they administer.  Using New Hampshire as an example, he discussed the waiver they were granted last year in order to allow several districts to use a system of competency-based tests in replacement of the annual tests previously administered.

The proposed rules would not require each state to overhaul their entire testing program at once, however.  They will be allowed to look at one grade level at a time or to proceed by subject area.