A U.S. Experiment in Assessment    

A U.S. Experiment in Assessment

Christy Guilfoyle

ASCD School Leadership


The United States is in the midst of an experiment in assessment. In the early 1990s, fewer than 30 states had a statewide assessment system of any kind. Today, every state has at least one—if not five or more—assessment programs, and testing has grown to a $1 billion–$1.3 billion industry (Topol, Olson, & Roeber, 2010). The quest to accurately measure student learning and the things we want kids to know and do well is central to recent U.S. education policy.

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), increased the frequency of required state assessments in reading and math from once each in elementary, middle, and high school to annually in grades 3–8 and once in high school. NCLB also added requirements for all students to participate in the statewide assessments, results to be disaggregated by subgroup, science tests to be phased in beginning in 2006, and sanctions for schools with any student subgroup failing to make adequate yearly progress. Moreover, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Acts of 1997 and 2001 reinforced the responsibility of educators to include students with disabilities in statewide assessments.

For states and the testing industry, meeting these new requirements was not without its challenges. Examining the effect of the increased demands and competition under the law, a 2010 Thomas Fordham Institute report (Toch & Tyre) found an assessment system fraught with scoring delays and errors, lost contracts, and testing companies that have "come under fire for administering tests with poorly vetted questions and items that are poorly aligned with state standards" (p. 8). These challenges were compounded by states' fiscal constraints at that time.

Because of the additional NCLB-mandated testing, nearly every state raised its annual assessment spending, even though NCLB dedicated $400 million annually to states to help defray part of the increased cost. By 2009, however, fiscal constraints led 19 states to cut their testing budgets and 10 more states to plan to make cuts, according to a 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

The report cited multiple challenges to test validity and reliability, such as staff capacity, assessment security, and developing alternate assessments for students with disabilities. It also found that ...

 

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