Pilot program opens way to innovation, flexibility in testing

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Testing is about to take on a new look in some states, and teachers could play a crucial role in shaping it for the better.

A new U.S. Department of Education pilot program will allow select school districts to experiment with more innovative testing systems and finally move beyond the rigid fill-in the-bubble exams that have limited public education in this country for so long. States have until April 2 to apply to participate in the program; up to seven (either individually or as part of a consortium) will be selected to help develop different ways for students to demonstrate mastery of their subjects through real-world projects and tasks rather than standardized tests.

broken pencil and test

AFT leaders, who have long resisted overreliance on standardized testing, are applauding the pilot project. Not only does it open the door to innovation, it also requires stakeholder input as new programs are developed. AFT members will have the opportunity to join with the other educators, school leaders, parents, and community groups such as civil rights organizations and advocates for students with disabilities and English language learners, to craft assessments that will work best for their students.

The pilot is part of the Every Student Succeeds Act and reflects the work the AFT did to ensure that act includes flexibility in testing. While every teacher knows that high-quality assessments are integral to teaching and learning, the AFT has been a strong opponent of low-quality testing that creates a teach-to-the-test mentality. As leaders have said countless times, powerful learning cannot be captured by a multiple-choice test. And such ineffective testing is compounded when poor test results are punished with catastrophic consequences like shutting down neighborhood schools.

More innovative assessments, such as those the new pilot program might lead to, could help students better cultivate the skills, knowledge and competencies to be truly productive citizens in the 21st century.

[Virginia Myers]