Federal officials are leading the charge to develop a new generation of summative, end-of-year exams that are delivered and scored by computer; focus on a deeper understanding of the curriculum, instead of just multiple choice; and can measure students’ readiness for college or a career more accurately.
“There is widespread concern that the most prominent assessments currently being used in the U.S. are inadequate and may have a significantly negative impact on student learning,” says Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE) Senior Fellow Robert Rothman, author of a recent issue brief called “Principles for a Comprehensive Assessment System.”
The Obama administration aims to change that. U.S. Department of Education (ED) officials are now offering more than $360 million in the first wave of federal grants to help states redesign their assessments—and technology is expected to play a significant role in the process.
The vast majority of this money—$350 million—has been set aside from the “Race to the Top” competition to help states develop new tests based on the Common Core Standards in English and math. Another $10.7 million is available to encourage innovate test formats that are more accessible for students with disabilities and that use multiple measures of student achievement.
“Unless we take action—unless we step up—there are countless children who will never realize their full talent and potential,” President Obama said during a video address as he announced his administration’s blueprint for overhauling the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in February. “I don’t accept that future for them. And I don’t accept that future for the United States of America.”
Efforts to rethink assessment began with a series of public meetings from November to January, during which federal officials heard from 42 experts and nearly 80 members of the public. From these meetings emerged a framework for the administration’s grant competitions, which aim to support the development of better state assessments that measure higher-order thinking skills and not just multiple-choice responses.
States will have until May 27 to apply for $10.7 million in grants through a program called “Enhanced Assessment Instruments.” To apply, states must team up with a higher-education institution or other research facility to develop a system for evaluating student achievement based on “multiple measures … from multiple sources,” and one that can chart students’ progress over time. Preference will be given to projects that increase the accessibility and validity of tests for students with disabilities.
ED will hand out roughly seven grants through this program, ranging in value from $750,000 to $2 million.
In addition, states have until April 29 to declare their intention to apply for the $350 million in Race to the Top funds for creating new assessments, and final applications are due June 23. Funding will be given to one or two consortia of states to build new assessments around the Common Core Standards in reading and math, and eligible consortia must include at least 15 states. The new tests must be implemented within each participating state no later than the 2014-15 school year, ED said.
Applicants seeking these Race to the Top funds must “use technology to the maximum extent appropriate to develop, administer, and score assessments and report [on] results,” according to the agency’s request for proposals.