This Newsbrief gives our sense of important and timely federal educational news within the following process and 
protest context
To advance educational excellence and equity, we must prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable students and communities. To accomplish this goal, we need clear processes for the development of policy, and we need to take into account opposition to current and proposed policies and practices — protest — as a healthy part of those processes.  

Federal Update

Innovative Assessments Under ESSA

August 3, 2018


The Issue

The United States Department of Education (US ED) has selected Louisiana as the first state that will be allowed to participate in the “Innovative Assessment” pilot program under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Three applicants Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico applied for the pilot program, which permits State Educational Agencies (SEAs) to try out new kinds of statewide tests in their schools. As the first SEA approved, Louisiana will soon begin the “demonstration phase” the first three years of a five-year implementation phase in five districts.

What is this Pilot Program?
ESSA enables the Secretary of US ED to allow SEAs to develop and implement “innovative assessment systems” in their public schools. In other words, SEAs chosen by US ED under this pilot program can replace a statewide standardized test with another type of exam in a few school districts.

ESSA requires that these new exams must produce an annual, summative score for each student. The chosen states must show that the new tests are comparable to what was in place before and they must have plans to update their testing system around the new  tests and expand them statewide. SEAs must also meet a series of additional requirements that are intended to ensure the new tests are of high quality, comply with the accountability provisions of ESSA, and are accessible to all student groups, including English learners and students with disabilities.

The first three years of the pilot program are a “demonstration phase.” During this time, the Secretary of US ED may approve no more than seven SEAs to participate in the pilot program.

What Does Louisiana Propose to Do?
Louisiana’s approved application applies to five school systems in the state. Louisiana’s plan  includes four key elements:

  • Combining English and social studies tests into one exam in an effort to streamline state testing
  • Basing exams on reading selections taken from books that students have studied for class rather than testing them on reading selections that may not have come from the curriculum
  • Giving students several shorter tests throughout the year, rather than one longer test at the end of the year
  • Allowing local authorities to determine the books their students will study and the assessments their students will take


The Process
Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico were the only three applicants to make the April 2 deadline for SEAs to apply for the innovative assessment pilot. Louisiana is the first state to be approved and now has five years to implement the plans detailed in its approved application. It bears noting that New Hampshire received approval from US ED under the previous authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), known as “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB), to run a pilot program of “competency-based assessments” in nine districts in the state.

What Comes Next?
There is no word yet from US ED as to when or whether a further decision will be announced regarding the applications submitted by New Hampshire and Puerto Rico. US ED has made the applications submitted by Louisiana and New Hampshire available online, as well as peer review notes, and interim feedback letters. The US ED site does not contain any information regarding Puerto Rico’s application.

After the first three years of implementation — the “demonstration” period — the research wing of US ED, known as the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), will write and release a report evaluating the implementation of the innovative assessment pilot program. The Secretary of US ED may at this point decide whether or not to expand the pilot program.


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