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Federal Guidance Given States on Testing Flexibility

By guest blogger Catherine Gewertz. Cross-posted from Curriculum Matters.

In new guidance issued Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education offered states the chance to suspend their current tests this spring, as long as they administer field tests being designed by the two common-assessment consortia in math and English/language arts. States that use that option will not have to report the results of the field tests, according to the federal guidance on statewide testing.

In a letter to state schools superintendents, Deborah S. Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, explained the options for states as they transition their testing regimens to reflect the Common Core State Standards.

The guidance is intended to help states facing potential "double testing" of their students in 2013-2014 by giving their own tests as well as field tests of the assessments being designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. It aims to provide more detail on the testing flexibility that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered initially in June.

In her letter, Delisle said states can give either their own tests, or a consortium field test, as long as each student takes a complete test in both math and English/language arts. States that use the field tests will not be required to report results, she wrote.

"A field test is not designed to be a valid and reliable measure of student achievement; rather, it is designed to help the test developers evaluate whether the tests, individual items, and the technology platform work as intended before the first operational administration," the letter says. "As a result, neither an SEA [state department of education] nor its local educational agencies [LEAs] are required to report field-test results—either individual student results to parents and teachers or on State or local [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] report cards."

States and districts must, however, continue to report results, including progress toward their stated goals, for students who take the state's own tests. And regardless of whether they choose their own state tests or the field tests, they must report participation rates, in the aggregate and for subgroups.

In addition to asking for "double-testing flexibility," states that use the field tests may request "determination flexibility," which allows them to hold their schools' accountability designations—such as whether they are "priority" turnaround schools—steady for a year.

The department also made it clear that any state whose schools are participating in the consortia field tests—or in the field tests of consortia working on tests for students with significant cognitive disabilities—may request the testing and accountability-designation flexibility.

The department will post template applications on its website Tuesday for states that have already obtained waivers from key portion of the No Child Left Behind Act, and for states that have not yet done so.

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