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Massachusetts Gets Green Light to Pilot Innovative Science Assessment

Massachusetts will join a federal innovative assessment program in the 2020-21 school year, allowing the state to pilot a new kind of science test for fifth and eighth grade students, the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday.

The flexibility will allow the state to try a new way of testing students' knowledge that combines a modified version of the existing state assessment with "technology enhanced performance tasks" that are aligned with state standards and use students' responses to activities as a way of measuring comprehension.

The aim is to find something more engaging for students and to "signal the state's focus on deeper learning in classrooms," the Education Department said in a news release.

The plan is part of the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority, a part of the Every Student Succeeds Act. It allows up to seven states to experiment with new forms of student testing in a small number of districts, and eventually expand them statewide if they are found to be effective. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos approved Georgia and North Carolina to participate in 2019, and did so for Louisiana and New Hampshire in 2018. 

"This important pilot program provides states the opportunity to rethink assessing student achievement in ways that are more relevant to what they are learning," DeVos said in a statement Friday. "I look forward to seeing this program's impact on student achievement as more states, like Massachusetts, take the bold step to do things differently to better serve students."

After a debate about the role of testing, lawmakers decided to maintain the requirement for annual tests in certain subjects when they approved ESSA, the federal education law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, in 2015. But they included the innovative assessment option to encourage states to rethink how they deliver those assessments.

Louisiana's pilot, for example, covers both English/language arts and social studies by assessing students on a combination of texts they've read in class and texts that are closely related to those they have already covered.

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