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Testing, ESSA's Looming Impact Are Hot Topics as State Board Members Meet

Washington

The arduous work of coming up with accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act took center stage as the National Association of State Boards of Education held its annual legislative conference this week, with workshops and a conversation about ESSA with U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

The new federal K-12 law, which goes into full effect in the 2017-18 school year, gives states more flexibility over school accountability systems and teacher evaluations, among other things. 

"This is your chance to ensure that every one of your students are ready to seize the American dream," King told board members, encouraging them to incorporate social studies, the arts and social-emotional skills in their accountability systems.  

As I wrote about last week, state boards are being squeezed by state legislatures, departments of education, and local school districts as authority over key aspects of K-12 policy devolves from federal to state authority.  At least 60 bills have been proposed this year that would either strip or amend state boards' powers, according to Daniel Thatcher, a policy researcher at the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

As part of the conference, NASBE released a paper done with University of Kentucky's Center for Innovation in Education that reasserts state boards' policy role and gives guidan23ce on the questions board members should ask themselves, their departments, and educators across their states. 

According to the paper, 31 state boards have authority over their state assessments and 45 have constitutional or legislative authority over state standards.  

"State legislatures have a very important job, and our job is to make sure they swim in their own lane," NASBE Executive Director Kristen Amundson said Tuesday during a session on boards reasserting their power.  

Amundson and Gene Wilhoit, the executive director of University of Kentucky's Center for Innovation in Education, advised gathered board members to get their own house in order and lobby legislatures for state boards to retain control of state testing and standards.

"You need to be controlling that conversation with the legislature," Wilhoit said.  

NASBE is advising board members to assure that states are asking the following questions when choosing which test to use: 

  • Who has the authority over the state assessment system? 
  • What do you want your state test to do? 
  • How well-aligned is your state test to state standards? 
  • Do the tests ask students to demonstrate higher-order thinking? 
  • Are you adopting high-quality assessments? 
  • To whom and when will test results be reported? 
  • What flexibility does your state want to incorporate into your testing system? 
  • What is the capacity of schools and districts to administer the tests? 

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