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Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico Apply for ESSA Innovative Testing Pilot

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UPDATED

Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico have officially submitted applications for the Every Student Succeeds Act's Innovative Assessment pilot, the U.S. Department of Education says.

The pilot, which was initially one of the most buzzed-about pieces of ESSA, allows up to seven states to try out new forms of testing in a handful of districts, with the goal of eventually taking them statewide. More than a dozen states—including biggies like New York—initially mulled applying, but ended up deciding against it.

That could be because the pilot has clear rules that don't make participation easy. States must make sure the new tests are comparable to the state exam, and are accessible to English-language learners and students in special education—all without additional financial resources. 

New Hampshire's decision to apply is no surprise. The state was the early national leader on these innovative assessments. The Granite State got permission under the No Child Left Behind Act—the law that ESSA replaced—to allow several districts to use performance-based assessments in some years, in lieu of the state exam. New Hampshire's application will likely build upon that work.

Louisiana is newer to the innovative-assessment game. The Pelican State is seeking to combine tests for two related subjects: English and social studies. The tests will include passages from books students have actually been exposed to in class, rather than brand-new material. Students will be asked to complete a series of brief reading and writing exams throughout the school year, to help their teachers get "real time" update on progress, according to a statement from the Louisiana Department of Education. Louisiana will initially try out these tests in five school districts.

Puerto Rico, where the entire school system was recently upended by Hurricane Maria, is engaging in a top-to-bottom overhaul that includes a new focus on choice. The pilot may fit into that overall picture.

Two other states—Hawaii and Arizona—also raised their hands to express interest in the pilot earlier this year. But both, it appears, ultimately opted not to apply.

Arizona has passed a law that would allow schools a choice of tests in grade 3 on up, beginning in the 2019-20 school year. The law was not mentioned in Arizona's ESSA plan, which has been approved by the feds. But the idea is not likely to be kosher under ESSA, which requires states to use the same test for every student, in every grade, unless the state is part of the pilot.  

It appears that Arizona considered whether the pilot's requirements would gel with this state law, but decided they did not.  

"All of our time and resources have been focused on developing the menu of assessments that the Arizona legislature passed into law.  The menu didn't really fit into the innovative pilot, so we opted not to participate," said Stefan Swiat, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, in an email.

A spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Education said the state plans to apply down the road, rather than for next school year. 

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


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