Prevailing trends in sentiment and policy signal a shift in measure mission away from proficiency for accountability purposes towards improving instructional quality and supporting the whole child. Over the past decade, more than a dozen states have implemented through-year assessments. National data on student literacy outcomes have enabled conditions for greater assessment inclusivity with 40 states now requiring K-2 dyslexia screening or early diagnostic testing. States also continue to grapple with what it means to appropriately integrate emergent bilingual learning needs within an assessment system that has historically been designed to serve a monolingual demographic of English-speaking students. These policy issues create an important space for assessment innovation and an opportunity to underscore the importance of assessments as a strategic tool for advancing educational equity.
Emergent Bilinguals/English Learners
Under ESSA, English learners, are required to take standardized assessments in reading, math, and other subjects. They must also take an annual English Language proficiency exam which, today, is largely offered by two providers. However, emergent bilingual advocates highlight the reliability limitations in content assessments which do not appropriately address the complexities of language acquisition in its design. Summative English language proficiency assessments do little to support the emergent bilingual demographic within the MTSS- leaving some of the most vulnerable students with weak support structures. As ESSA approaches the time for reauthorization it should be an imperative of the federal government to invest in assessment innovation that improves the systems of accountability for English learners. At the state-level, it is important that leaders leverage the authority of Title III to ensure English learners are adequately monitored with high-quality, research-based, assessment tools.
More recently, literacy as a policy issue has largely been driven in the State legislature and often along a single party line. What we know from NAEP data is that reading performance across the nation is at a historic low- a skill that empowers student success in all other academic areas. IF literacy is a civil right, then this is the social justice issue of our time. Dyslexia is one of the most common reading disabilities that affects approximately 15% of school-aged children and account for a drop-out rate near 40%. Early identification of dyslexia is critical to ensure appropriate interventions are delivered at the right time. Students with dyslexia can learn to read and be equally as successful as their non-dyslexic peers with appropriate support. Tying literacy outcomes to a federal program for accountability purposes will continue to create new opportunities for assessments to help create transparency and ensure educators know how to meet the needs of our nation’s earliest readers.
Through Year Assessments
Through-year assessments present an opportunity to provide district and state partners with a strategic tool for fostering a culture of assessment equity. Educators benefit from access to actionable, timely and reliable data which, in turn, improves instructional routines and decision making. For students, through-year testing removes the pressure to achieve that comes with annual summative assessments. Students in through-year testing environments appreciate the opportunities to improve their performance within the same context. In general, through year testing is an exciting opportunity for states to become the architects of their own assessment systems. Thirteen states are currently implementing through year assessment systems- two of which were directed by the legislature (TX and VA)- a trend that we should hope to continue. At the state-level, proactively engaging policymakers in understanding the possibilities that exist to co-create an assessment system, should be a key strategic intention of expanding the portfolio footprint. At the federal level, the ED continues to encourage states to apply for IADA which should be funded by Congress to incentive state participation.