Delaware’s Progress on Improving Testing
Recently, the Center for American Progress published a report called “ESEA Reauthorization: Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act Toward a Coherent, Aligned Assessment System.” The big idea: The report highlights how ESSA maintains basic testing requirements, but has created an opportunity for states to be flexible in developing stronger testing systems without the pressure of NCLB’s exclusive focus on summative assessments. In short, ESSA is an opportunity to refine testing systems and pursue pilots for innovative assessments.
Here’s our analysis of CAP’s recommendations on how states can improve testing systems under ESSA, and the progress Delaware has already made toward meeting them.
It’s not clear whether a Delaware stakeholder group has formally developed (or adopted) a set principles. However, the Delaware Department of Education Assessment Overview includes some broad principles defining assessment and guiding the assessment inventory work.
2. Conduct alignment studies. According to the report, leaders should take a holistic look at their testing systems to ensure that students are tested on what they are learning, and that what students are learning aligns with state standards.
In June 2015, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Joint Resolution #2 requiring that DDOE create a formal assessment inventory process for all state and district level assessments currently being administered, and convene a committee of stakeholders to make recommendations on the appropriate amount and use of assessments in Delaware schools. Districts submitted their completed assessment inventories to DDOE at the end of last year, and the assessment inventory committee is scheduled to review inventories and finalize recommendations by June 30, 2016.
3. Provide support for districts in choosing high-quality formative and interim assessments. According to the report, not every district has the capacity to evaluate all of the formative and interim tests that are available, and states should address this challenge by either reviewing these tests and making available information about their quality and alignment with state standards, OR by providing their districts with professional development in conducting their own reviews and making informed decisions.
DDOE has made resources available to districts in order to support the assessment inventory process at the district level. This includes tools and guidelines developed in collaboration with Achieve, and a grant process to support any costs associated with the assessment inventory process. Grants were awarded to all 11 districts and charters that submitted grant applications. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education recently released guidance on the use of federal funding to reduce unnecessary assessment and improve the quality of assessment. It’s not new money, but does clarify flexibility around existing federal resources.
4. Demand that test results are delivered in a timely fashion. CAP recommends that states push testing companies for faster turnaround time in the delivery of test results and that a policy of two months or less needs to be the norm when it comes to state testing programs.
This year, parents and schools will receive score reports sooner. According to a Jan. 21 presentation to the Delaware State Board of Education, score reports for parents and schools will arrive in mail by July, and preliminary online scores will be available earlier—within a month of the student’s testing window.
5. Increase the value of tests for schools, parents, and students. CAP recommends that states partner with colleges to use the state-required high school exam as a college placement exam, and that states should consider replacing the required high school proficiency test with a college entrance exam (i.e. SAT).
Delaware has already announced that the SAT will replace the Smarter Assessment as the state testing requirement for high school juniors, beginning this spring. This will reduce the overall hours students spend testing and increasing the value of the 11th grade assessment to students.
6. Take advantage of the new ESSA assessment pilot program to design and implement truly innovative assessment regimes. While ESSA maintains the federal testing requirements, it also includes a pilot program that initially allows up to seven states to develop innovative assessment systems that provide valid, reliable, and comparable data on student achievement. CAP recommends that states take advantage of this flexibility in order to design and implement innovative assessments.
This is a long-term opportunity that Delaware could explore and pursue. Some states have already begun exploring innovative competency based assessments. For example, New Hampshire has a pilot program that combines local and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests. Some other states are part of an effort to pool tests at the CCSSO Innovation Lab Network.
7. Develop better communication tools. CAP recommends that states develop clearer score reports that are accompanied by an explanation of how to interpret results, as well as the promotion of a website that provides a broad spectrum of sample test items that cover the range of potential testing topics and other FAQs about state testing programs, and train district and school leaders in how to communicate about test results to parents.
According to a Jan. 21 presentation to the Delaware State Board of Education, Parent Smarter Score Reports have been enhanced to be clearer and provide more meaningful explanations to parents, such as descriptions of student performance on each area of assessment, FAQs, and additional resources (i.e. standards). DDOE is also coordinating outreach and communications with districts and charters across the state, as districts and charters prepare to communicate test results to parents.
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