On March 23rd, Rep. Jamaal Bowman introduced H.R 1741, which would amend the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to significantly scale back state summative assessment requirements. While we appreciate the ways in which H.R. 1741 would provide additional Title I funding and first-time funding for the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA), we are opposed to this bill because we are concerned it would undercut key equity provisions in current law. Specifically:
1. H.R.1741 would eliminate the requirement for annual assessments, removing the ability for states and school districts to monitor student growth and allocate additional resources in a timely, appropriate way.
A key element to this bill is eliminating the requirement for states to assess student learning in reading and math on an annual basis in grades 3-8. Instead, H.R.1741 proposes that states would be allowed to test students once per grade span (I.e., 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12). In practice, this introduces the possibility that students could be assessed only once in elementary school and middle school combined. Such a large gap between assessments would make it harder to intervene early when students begin to struggle in reading or math and prohibit states from measuring how much progress each student is making from one year to the next, which is more critical than ever as schools work to fill in gaps in students’ learning stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Addressing inequities that predate and, in many cases, were exacerbated by the pandemic, which have disproportionately impacted students from historically underserved backgrounds, requires consistent, annual data to monitor student learning and track progress. We do not know what we cannot see, and making summative assessments less frequent would create significant blind spots, with states’ understanding of students learning informed entirely by certain students in certain grades. States would be left with, at best, a blurry snapshot of student learning, limiting their ability to accurately allocate targeted, additional resources to the classrooms and students who need it most each year. Assessing students only once per grade span would also make it even more difficult to get a national picture of student achievement. Finally, states could also test reading and math in different grades from one another, which could cause schools to further narrow curriculum in response to testing schedules by focusing almost entirely on the subject tested in that grade.
2: H.R.1741 would remove the requirement that every child be assessed. This would not only deny families access to a key measure of their child’s academic progress, but also deny state and district leaders, and the public, access to data on student learning broken down by key student demographics.
This legislation, if passed, would remove the requirement that every student be assessed on their learning against grade-level standards. Instead, H.R.1741 would introduce flexibility for states to use sampling methods where a subset of students (including within each student group) would take the summative assessment. Using statistical methods, test data from the sample of students would then be used to inform a representative picture of student learning overall. Several issues arise when we consider the implications of these changes.
First, every family deserves to know whether their child is reading and doing math at the expected level for their grade. Shifting to representative sampling methods eliminates the ability for all parents and caretakers to obtain valuable information on their child’s progress in the classroom. Further, before the requirement for annual assessments for all students, certain groups of students were often held to lower expectations and taught content well-below their grade level. H.R. 1741 would take us back two-plus decades to a time when differences in student opportunity to learn were able to be swept under the rug and many students, particularly students with disabilities, were left out of assessments completely. While summative assessment data is not the “end-all, be-all”, and should be considered in the context of other measures, this data is especially useful for students and families because other measures of student learning, such as class grades and assessments, may also reflect completion, effort, or class participation and may not be consistently aligned with grade-level standards. The “More Teaching Less Testing Act” would strip the ability for most families to have this important data source in their “tool kit” when they need to advocate on behalf of their child, either for academic supports or additional academic opportunities.
Second, removing the requirement to assess every child’s learning would hinder efforts to meaningfully disaggregate data—crucial to ensuring additional resources are targeted to student groups and schools that need them most—by substantially decreasing total sample sizes. While ESSA requires states to report assessment data for each school and district and statewide, disaggregated by students’ race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English-language proficiency, disability status, and more, states also set a threshold for the minimum number of students (i.e., “n-size”) needed in a group in order to be able to include that group in public reporting. This guardrail seeks to both protect personal information of students, as well as help ensure statistical reliability. However, by decreasing the total number of students being assessed, there is a stronger likelihood that this minimum “n-size” number will not be met, especially in smaller districts and schools where there may already be suppressed data for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, English learners, and students with disabilities. While statewide disaggregated assessment data would likely still be available if sampling were used, disaggregated data at the district and school level would be compromised, and with it, the ability for state and local leaders to target resources to students most in need of academic support.
The next iteration of summative assessment policy must keep educational equity front and center while better meeting the needs of students, families and educators.
There is a legitimate need to rethink summative assessments and how they are used in our education system moving forward. However, the proposed revisions to ESSA as outlined in the “More Teaching Less Testing Act” would ultimately prove harmful to advancing educational equity in our country:
- Accountability systems would be severely restricted in their ability to measure achievement for individual groups of students and student growth from year to year given the more limited data points available, masking the performance of historically underserved students and making accountability systems more reliant on measures that are strongly associated with student demographics;
- Districts and schools would have less information on student achievement available to help target resource allocation, identify students’ needs, and provide timely interventions and supports to address these needs; and
- Parents and families would no longer receive annual information on their child’s performance and progress against grade-level expectations via state summative assessments, leaving them without a critical tool to advocate for their child.
Instead, we urge policymakers and advocates to focus on centering the needs of students, families, and educators in the next generation of summative statewide assessments. Specifically, policymakers and advocates should prioritize efforts that (1) ensure assessments are racially and culturally inclusive, incorporating content that authentically reflects all students’ identities and backgrounds, and (2) improve the timeliness and accessibility of assessment results so that reporting is more actionable and understandable to students, families, and educators. There are substantial improvements to the existing system that can be made, and we look forward to working with other stakeholders in the coming months and years. But we cannot support going back to a time where students, parents, educators, and policymakers are in the dark about academic growth, especially for historically underserved students.
Education Reform Now
National Center for Learning Disabilities
The Education Trust
his post originally appeared on Education Trust’s blog, The Equity Line.