August 30, 2016

Testing! 1, 2... 3 ways states can improve assessments under ESSA

In response to proposed assessment regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act, a team of Educators 4 Excellence teachers from around the country sent the following letter to U.S. Secretary of Education John King. In the letter, they urge federal policymakers not to miss key opportunities for creating positive testing environments, using data to make critical decisions, and piloting new assessments. Read the full letter below.

The Honorable John King
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary King and U.S. Department of Education leaders,

As educators, we are committed to improving student achievement and closing opportunity gaps as quickly and e_ectively as possible.

Having consistent and comparable student data is critical to monitor progress and to identify achievement gaps between groups of students. States, districts and schools need to be able to assess where greater support is needed, and equally important, they need to be able to shine a light where underserved students are doing well so that practices can be replicated.

As current classroom teachers from across the United States, we convened last fall to develop recommendations on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Our collective recommendations, From Classroom to Congress: ESEA Policy at Play, are organized around three big ideas: 1) Do not dilute Title I funds; 2) Strengthen school accountability for traditionally underserved students; and 3) Elevate teaching and promote teacher leadership.

The proposed regulations you put forth reflect many of the priorities articulated by representative teachers on behalf of E4E membership (more than 20,000 educators across the country) and they are an important step toward ensuring that all students are counted and that parents and communities can hold their schools accountable for meeting the needs of their students.

We support the Department’s goal of having fewer but better tests, and we ask the Department to create additional state regulations for: 1) involving educators in creating a positive testing environment in schools; 2) using data in critical decisions; and 3) piloting new assessments.

We need ways to support fellow educators in making our schools places where learning and growth is valued above test scores. Educators should be active participants in the process of improving changes to testing and assessment. States should engage educators in developing and maintaining guides for creating a positive testing environment in schools and tools for using assessments to promote growth and learning.

Assessments are only as useful as the degree to which the data can be, and is, used. In order to increase and improve the use of student data in critical decisions, we ask that the Department require each state to create guidance and on-going learning opportunities for Local Education Agencies and educators to become fluent in data-driven, decision-making skills. Using student data effectively means using common data to inform instruction, including best practices for assessment validity, reliability, ethics, motivation, engagement and standards-based grading.

Lastly, we urge the Department to explicitly outline that states are free to implement new, innovative assessments, either statewide or in select districts, without separate approval from the federal Education Department, as long as they continue to also administer the statewide annual assessments. We believe that drawing states’ attention to their existing ability to innovate under Title I, Part A is essential to ensuring that states continue to think creatively about ways to accurately assess the academic achievement of all students.

Our recommendations stem from years of valuable classroom experiences. We believe that tests can be deeply beneficial to students if they are well-designed, carefully administered and continually improved.

Thank you for your continued partnership.


Members of the Educators 4 Excellence Teacher Action Team on the Every Student Succeeds Act

The ESSA Teacher Action Team submitted this letter as formal comment, and they encourage you to reach out to the U.S. Department of Education with your own thoughts on the proposed assessment regulations. The comment period closes Sept. 9 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Consider submitting today!