5 ways Biden can make K-12 testing more fair

Assessments should focus on innovation, flexibility and relevance to teaching and learning, NWEA says
By: | December 15, 2020
Tesitng compancy NWEA encourages policymakers to conduct assessments in spring 2021 but provide flexibility. (GettyImages/kali9)Tesitng compancy NWEA encourages policymakers to conduct assessments in spring 2021 but provide flexibility. (GettyImages/kali9)

Joe Biden’s administration is being urged to transform assessment and accountability systems to counter the COVID’s inequitable impacts on education.

Biden and the new Congress should prioritize assessments that focus on innovation, flexibility and more relevance to teaching and learning, says policy recommendations released Tuesday by NWEA, the nonprofit testing company.

“The pandemic has illuminated persistent inequities and while statewide assessment and related accountability systems have helped to move the needle somewhat over the past 20 years, these systems have not eliminated opportunity and achievement gaps,” said Aaliyah Samuel, NWEA’s executive vice president of government affairs and partnerships.

“Given the impacts of the pandemic, it’s time to modernize the system to one that is focused on action,” Samuel said.

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NWEA recommends:

Require statewide assessments in spring 2021 but provide flexibility

While NWEA does not encourage cancelling state assessments, testing this school year should not drive high-stakes decisions such as school ratings and teacher evaluation.

Spring testing should be used to evaluate the pandemic’s impact on systems of learning, to inform decisions about support and intervention, and to determine equitable funding.

Replace the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA)

The Biden administration and Congress should not wait for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to replace the IADA. Only less burdensome and more actionable assessments will help educators close opportunity gaps and foster equity.

Policymakers should fund a new innovation program that supports statewide assessments that align to rigorous academic standards and that are fair for all students and schools.

Testing must also be made coherent across grade levels and useful for teachers, families, and students to inform instruction.

Align peer review requirements with innovation goals and advancements

Peer review can drive adoption of flexible assessments that produce data differently than traditional paper-and-pencil or multiple-choice tests. This includes rethinking historical assumptions about comparability and standardization.

Support statewide assessments that are more relevant to teaching and learning

Accountability systems must do more than categorize schools and students into buckets and confirm the same challenges and gaps in outcomes year after year. Testing must support and incentivize action to address the challenges.

This means analyzing data to gain actionable insights to improve instruction.

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Promote accountability systems that are responsive to communities and foster next-generation learning and equity

Currently, schools serving affluent students and schools serving students with inequitable access to opportunity are both measured based on whether students are proficient or not. However, the latter schools must grow students significantly more in the same amount of time.

Instead, the whole picture should be considered, including measures such as fall to spring academic growth.

“Federal and state leaders have an opportunity to reimagine their roles and evolve beyond auditors of education systems to active supporters of improved learning,” said Jason Mendenhall, NWEA’s president of state solutions division. “The pandemic has moved up the urgency to address these lingering issues and the disconnects between information and action.”