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King announces guidance to states to help reduce testing


U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.
U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.

recently announced new guidance to help states identify and eliminate low-quality, redundant or unhelpful testing.

“High-quality assessments give parents, educators and students useful information about whether students are developing the critical thinking and problem solving skills they need to succeed in life,” said King. “But there has to be a balance, and despite good intentions, there are too many places around the country where the balance still isn’t quite right. We hope this guidance will help restore that balance and give back some of the critical learning time that students need to be successful.”

The guidance outlines how federal dollars may be used to help reduce testing in schools, while still ensuring that educators and parents have the information they need on students’ progress to improve learning. The guidance shines a light on innovative work already happening across the country and provides examples of how states and districts can use their federal funding to explore new strategies for ensuring the use of high-quality, useful and well-constructed assessments, and the elimination of redundant and burdensome assessments.

King talks more about the guidance in a video recently released.

The document builds on an October 2015 announcement by President Obama and a set of principles the Department released, outlining that assessments must be worth taking and of high quality; enhance teaching and learning; and give a well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing.

Last fall, the Council of the Great City Schools released the results of a comprehensive, two-year study on the scope of testing in schools, a report that has helped deepen the nation’s understanding of assessments. Some states and districts continue to look for creative ways to decrease testing burden on students and teachers while ensuring that new assessments measure vital skills like writing, problem-solving, and critical thinking. The Department is highlighting some of that work on its Progress blog with posts on strategies being used in Tennessee and in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

While this guidance addresses use of federal money under No Child Left Behind during the 2015- 16 and 2016-17 school years, the Department will provide further clarification in coming months on how dollars under the newly adopted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) can be used to support the reduction of unnecessary testing. The new law takes additional steps to support smart, effective assessments and to reduce over-testing, including efforts to encourage states to limit classroom time spent on statewide standardized testing and to strive for continued improvement and innovation in assessments. ESSA encourages a smarter approach to testing by allowing the use of multiple measures of student learning and progress, along with other indicators of student success, to make school accountability decisions. It also includes support for state efforts to audit and streamline their current assessment systems.

“As a teacher, you know that information on your students’ progress is crucial to tailoring instruction to their specific needs and to understanding whether a lesson has worked. As a school leader, you need tools to ensure that every student is learning and to support the growth of your staff,” King said. “And yet, in both roles, you’re also always seeking more opportunities for quality instructional time for your students. Good assessments can actually be part of great learning experiences, but simplistic, poorly constructed, or redundant tests just take away from critical learning time, without providing useful information.”

In his FY16 budget proposal, President Obama called on Congress to provide support to continue and grow this work. The President’s budget included $403 million for state assessments to provide additional resources to states to support the effective implementation of assessments that are aligned to college- and career-ready standards that will help ensure that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in college and the workplace. In his FY17 budget proposal, President Obama will once again prioritize these goals.

In addition to this guidance, the Department has also:

  • Established “office hours” for any state or district that wishes to consult on how it can best reduce testing while still meeting policy objectives and requirements under the law;
  • Highlighted the work of states and districts on the Progress blog;
  • Awarded resources through the Enhanced Assessment Grants competition to support the development of better, less burdensome assessments;
  • Provided expertise to states directly through proactive outreach to states and other technical assistance.

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