Apr 212016

New federal testing requirements aren’t so different after all

  • Though keep an eye on high school assessments and accommodations for ELL and special education students

sbe photoAPRIL 21, 2016 – So, what’s changing with new federal K-12 testing requirements? Not a whole lot, though there are some differences, most notably around high school assessments.

Following are highlights. Education Week has a reader-friendly cheat sheet that goes into more detail and offers context. Edutopia also has a summary.

Please note these are requirements districts need to meet to receive certain federal funds, such as Title 1, which supplements funding for low-income children.



Tests need to be aligned to state standards. States still set their own standards.

With state approval, districts can choose their own high school assessment.

Districts must test in reading and math, and science three times, but can test other subjects if they choose.

Results need to be reported out for gender, English-language learners, students receiving special education services, different racial groups, students who qualify for free or reduced price meals, students living in homelessness, student in foster care, and students connected to the military.

Students need to be tested in grades 3 to 8, and once in high school.

All students in the state have to take the same test in each grade, unless:

  • The district is participating in an assessment pilot
  • The district selects (with state approval) a nationally recognized high school test instead of the state exam
  • 8th-graders who are taking advanced math classes—like Algebra or Geometry—can take a test at their level, instead of the regular state math test for 8th graders

Tests don’t have to be end-of-year summative tests. They can be smaller, interim tests. They can include portfolio work.

Tests can be adaptive and include questions below grade level so schools can monitor growth. But they need to show whether the student is at grade level for the grade they are enrolled in.

As always, states can develop their own assessment system; under ESSA there is more flexibility inwhat they look like.

New, a high school option:

If the state gives the OK, then districts can choose which nationally recognized high school assessment to administer. These can include college entrance tests like the SAT or ACT, or AP college-level course tests, or International Baccalaureate tests, or the Common Core aligned PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments.

Washington’s Smarter Balanced high school exam is intended to gauge whether or not a student is on track to transition into career or college by measuring mastery of state learning standards. In contrast, AP tests that some high school students take measure mastery of specific course material for possible college credit; the SAT measures developed reasoning and is not aligned to high school curriculum; and the ACT measures general educational development in English language arts, math and science.

It’s important to note that if Washington allows this option, all high schools in the district must use the same test. Districts must ensure that students receiving special education services or designated English language learners are given the accommodations they are entitled to. (Education Week’s cheat sheet goes into more detail.)


Districts can’t unilaterally switch the high school tests. First, they need to engage parents – give them an opportunity to provide input and explain to families how instruction might change. Then they need to request the change from the state. If a new test is adopted, they must notify parents.

Where we are in the process:

The “rulemaking” process for the new Every Student Succeeds Act isn’t final yet, but the committee charged with interpreting the details has come to some agreement. Next step is a comment phase.

To back track, as policy moves from idea to law, first legislators pass broad policy statutes and the executive – the president, governor, mayor, etc – signs them into law. But interpreting the nitty gritty details of statutes and agreeing to rules about them falls to a selected committee. The appointed “rulemaking” committee discusses and negotiates; shares proposed regulations out to public, possibly makes changes; then forwards regulations for final agency approval.

So even though the ESSA passed, what it will look like in practice is still being worked out.


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 April 21, 2016  Posted by on April 21, 2016 Parent Line

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