Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed into law by President Obama in December of 2106, states have a much greater degree of flexibility in order to meet federal requirements for accountability.

State departments of education across the country are currently soliciting feedback from their statewide constituents to make decisions regarding the various aspects of this new found decision making authority for the full implementation of ESSA in the 2017-18 school year. One of the areas of flexibility that states are grappling with is the opportunity to replace high school state assessments with National assessments including but not limited to the ACT or the SAT. The implications for this decision will certainly reverberate in classrooms across America.

Under ESSA, states are required to test students in math and reading annually in grades 3-8. Math and reading must also be assessed one time in grades 9-12. State science tests must be given one time in each of these three grade bands: 3-5; 6-9 and 10-12. A national assessment may be used to take the place of the high school testing requirements. The SAT and the ACT instantly come to mind as possible options. However, upon looking more closely, ESSA defines a national assessment as a test administered to high school students “…in multiple states for college entrance or placement.” Thus, other assessments such as Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams may be options. For a straightforward look at the law’s most important rules, check out the ESSA “Cheat Sheet” from Education Week

States have been required to integrate assessments into graduation requirements since the inception of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001. Students were required to meet state and local minimum graduation requirements in terms of credits earned AND perform at least at the proficient level on state administered exams. In addition, high school students have had to face taking college entrance exams and where applicable, one or more AP or IB exams. Recently, there has been a great deal of attention paid to graduating seniors scoring “remedial free” on college entrance exams in an effort to make sure every graduate is “College and Career Ready”. Now, due to the increased flexibility offered by ESSA, states have the opportunity to streamline the process and still meet all of the objectives that are being pursued.

If states decide to purse the option of using a “national assessment” in place of state assessments the high school experience will look differently for the nation’s 13 million plus 9th through twelfth graders. In any event, ESSA has the potential to impact standardized testing in many ways.

The ACT is an achievement test comprising four areas including math, English, social studies and science. There is also an optional writing session. The SAT is a reasoning test comprised of math, English and writing. These assessments could replace state assessments and simultaneously allow students to complete a crucial part of the college application process and concomitantly provide evidence to the degree that our graduates are “College and Career Ready”. Another advantage for students that should be considered is the plethora of resources available for success on these two tests. Both tests boast a bevy of on-line materials on their respective websites. Numerous for profit companies (Kaplan, Huntington) offer ACT or SAT preparation courses and there are also free resources such as Kahn Academy. College entrance tutors are available in communities across the country as well as test prep books and practice tests. In short, student assistance for these assessments is already built in to the existing structures. Streamlining this whole process appears to make a great deal of sense. However, there is a process in place before states may proceed.

The following requirements must be met in order for a state department of education to use a nationally recognized test in lieu of state assessments for high school students:

  • States establish technical requirements for the use of national tests
  • Local districts select a test and submit an application to the state
  • Once a district is approved to use a particular test any district in the state may use it
  • Test must be given to all students in the grade level to be tested
  • Federal peer review is required
  • Assessment must align to the state content standards and be equivalent to state tests
  • Accommodations for students with disabilities and English Learners must be made
  • The assessment must be used in the State accountability system
  • The exam must provide comparable, valid and reliable data

I applaud states for  continuing to explore ways to streamline testing requirements while still meeting the needs of all students.