ESEA Draft Rules

Update: Department of Education regulations on testing have been published. They are at
Brief comment on ESEA rules:
1) While the law generally says "academic assessment," the rules often say "test." This may indicate an expectation that all assessments used, whether state or local, be standardized tests of some sort.
2) The rules will allow local assessments and refer to state assessment systems that can include state and local assessments. The language however emphasizes technical requirements for the local assessments. These may be difficult to meet, but how they will in fact be interpreted by states and how the Education Department will respond remains to be seen. (See other pieces on this page discussing flexibility and state options under ESEA.)
3) The requirement that the assessments as providing diagnostic information is not in the rules but is in the law.
4) The rules clearly state the assessments must "Fully address the depth and breadth of the State's academic standards."
5) The rules will allow the use of norm-referenced tests provided that those tests have items added to the tests to enable to them to assess the standards and that the results are reported in terms of the levels defined by the standards (basic, proficient, advanced). Testing companies are pushing hard for this, but it remains largely a fraudulent idea that a test designed as a norm-referenced tool can provide adequate criterion-referenced information. This is in addition to the problem that most "criterion-referenced" tests are designed using principles developed for norm-referenced tests, that is, to sort students out. That might lead to the conclusion that it therefore does not matter which is used. However, the principle should be retained that the purpose of education is first to educate all students to high levels, and that assessments must therefore match that. Tests intended to sort and rank, whether the maker or state labels them "norm" or "criterion" referenced, should not be used under Title I.
6) The criteria tests must meet cannot realistically be met by any existing tests. Therefore, tradeoffs will be made. Based on its language regarding local assessments, rt appears the Department will privilege technical considerations over whether the assessments fully meet the standards (which often are deeply flawed as well), provide useful diagnostic information (dropped from the rules the Department will use to evaluate the states), or measure higher order skills or "challenging content." (Of course, experts can be found to argue that the tests meet all these requirements.) This would be a green light to use of inadequate, generally low-level tests (including those parading as high-quality exams).
7) States which seek to use high-quality, largely local assessments, particularly if they will use classroom-based assessments and portfolios, will have to struggle to use these assessments. That said, there do exist classroom, performance assessments that can meet these requirements – but they are not in widespread use. (See, for example, the Learning Record here).