U.S. DOE Proposes Rules for Pilot Testing Program

Published August 26, 2016

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has proposed regulations to govern a K–12 standardized testing pilot program under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

ESSA, a bill President Barack Obama signed into law in December to modify the previous administration’s No Child Left Behind federal education policy, allows peer reviewers and the education secretary to grant a maximum of seven states authority to establish “an innovative assessment system” and use it for accountability and reporting purposes for up to five years. States will be able to experiment with new tests in school districts before using them statewide.

DOE released the proposed rules in July to explain how the seven-state pilot program would work. The proposed regulations outline what a state must do to qualify for the program and they define the selection criteria.

States would be required to include in their applications “a description of the experience of the applicant in implementing any components of its innovative assessment system, [and] the timeline over which it proposes to exercise demonstration authority.”

States must also demonstrate their assessment systems will be developed in collaboration with stakeholders that represent diverse interests and “express student results or student competencies in terms consistent with the state’s aligned academic achievement standards,” among other requirements.

Aspiring to Greater Accuracy

DOE writes the benefits of its regulatory action “include the administration of assessments that may measure student mastery of state academic content standards more effectively than current state assessments and better inform classroom instruction and student supports, ultimately leading to improved academic outcomes for all students.”

The Washington Post notes the plan suggests no proposed timeline for states to apply for the program and administer tests, and it’s likely “the next president and his or her education secretary” will decide which states participate in the program. 

Contradictory Goals

Greg Forster—a senior fellow for EdChoice, which was previously called the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice—says the proposed regulations are contradictory and still amount to federal oversight.

“ESSA runs on the same illusion that No Child Left Behind ran on: The federal government can both control state accountability systems and not control them,” Forster said. “The federal government wants to incentivize high standards, but it does not want to be seen as defining what counts as high standards, because that generates enormous political resistance. But you can’t incentivize high standards and not impose your view of what counts as a high standard.”

Feds Retain Control

Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, says the proposed innovative assessments rules are generally a good thing for “more school districts, more schools, and more people to try different ways of assessing what students are learning,” but he says states will still be at the mercy of DOE.

“There is still, as I understand, a requirement for plans to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education,” McCluskey said. “[DOE] may be very open in allowing a lot of different ideas, and they may not be.”

Michael McGrady ([email protected]) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.