Education Department guidance targets overtesting

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The new Every Student Succeeds Act puts a premium on federal efforts to help states identify and eliminate low-quality, redundant or unhelpful testing, and new guidance announced Feb. 2 by acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. moves in that direction.

The document builds on President Obama's October 2015 announcement on testing and a set of principles the Department of Education released, which emphasized that "assessments must be worth taking and of high quality, enhance teaching and learning, and give an all-around picture of how students and schools are doing."

High-quality assessments give all stakeholders useful information about whether students are developing critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, King said, "but, as with most things, good assessment is about balance. … Despite good intentions, there are too many places around the country where the balance still isn't quite right." The guidance is intended to help restore that balance and give back some of the vital 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. It showcases 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.

Additionally, in recent weeks the Education Department has clarified key components of ESSA. A Dec. 18 letter emphasizes that, aside from technical support and feedback, monitoring educator evaluation is now beyond the scope of the department "given that educator evaluation and support systems are not required under the ESSA." And on Jan. 28, the department laid out timelines for ESSA implementation, advising that, for the most part, what is in place for states and districts in 2015-16 can remain so in 2016-17—a time when all stakeholders should be working together to fashion new accountability systems and intervention strategies.

[Mike Rose, Beth Antunez]