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Four States Raise Their Hands for ESSA Innovative Assessment Pilot

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UPDATED

Four states—Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana, and New Hampshire—told the U.S. Department of Education they are interested in applying to participate in the Every Student Succeeds Act's Innovative Assessment Pilot. 

That list isn't necessarily the final word. The department encouraged states that think they may apply to raise their hands early this month. But formal applications aren't due April 2. Additional states could jump in, or any of the four could change its mind. 

So what, exactly, is the Innovative Assessment Pilot? ESSA requires states to test students using the same test in grades 3-8 and once in high school, but it also paves the way for new kinds of assessments. Under the law, the secretary can allow up to seven states—or groups of states—to try out new kinds of tests in a select number of districts, with the goal of eventually taking them statewide. The pilot was inspired by previous work on performance assessment in New Hampshire, thanks to a waiver from the previous version of federal education law, the No Child Left Behind Act. (That's why it's no surprise to see New Hampshire on the list.)

But why does it look like there won't be many takers? While the pilot may be appealing to states that want to move towards new, more project-based forms of assessment, ESSA includes a lot of restrictions that make participation a challenge. These include requirements that states try out the new assessments with a broad cross-section of students, make sure they are comparable to other state tests, and eventually take them statewide. And at this point, participation in the pilot doesn't come with any additional money. So states will have to figure out how to do all those tricky things on their own dime.

At least three states—Georgia, Hawaii, and New York—expressed formal interest in the pilot in ESSA plans they submitted to the Education Department. And Colorado passed a law calling on its state education agency to seek the flexibility. Only one of those states, though, has given the department a heads-up that they are working on an application.

Both Arizona and New Hampshire have come under scrutiny from former Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., an ESSA architect. Kline is worried that the states—whose ESSA plans have been approved by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—have their own legislation on the books that appears to conflict with ESSA.

Arizona's law would give schools a choice of tests to use from grade 3 on, beginning in the 2019-20 school year.  And New Hampshire's law calls for districts to give tests once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school. Neither law was a part of the states' ESSA plans.

In a commentary for Education Week, Kline called on the U.S. Department of Education to "enforce the fundamental requirement that the same annual tests be given to all students."

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here's some useful information:


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