Using Classroom-based Assessments for ESEA

K-12 Testing
The new ESEA does not mandate the use of standardized tests: it simply calls for “academic assessments.” A state could establish a system of local assessments, as the Massachusetts Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education (CARE) calls for. The use of classroom-based tests, essays, observations, work samples, projects, presentations, and portfolios would then be part of the state assessment system. The CARE plan also calls for limited state testing in literacy and numeracy along with school quality reviews.


To meet new federal requirements, students would be evaluated in light of the state standards. The results would have to allow aggregation of student scores to school, district and state levels, and disaggregation by subgroup.


If adequately based on classroom work, these assessments could be substantially more valid than standardized tests and include far wider and deeper learning than can be measured by any state exam. Requirements to assess higher order thinking skills and provide useful diagnostic information would be easier to meet with local assessments. Reliability (scoring consistency) may be a problem, but classroom-based assessments such as the Learning Record have established higher reliability than some state-scored writing prompts (see Examiner, Fall 2001).


The state of Maine has already said it plans to continue to develop its mixed state and local assessment program, and Education Secretary Rod Paige wrote that the plan should meet federal requirements. Maine currently tests in grades 4, 8 and 11. By 2007, each district also will assess all its students with multiple measures that can include tests, reports, projects, essays and portfolios as well as nationally-normed achievement tests. Other states which have relied heavily on local assessments or sought to keep state exams to a minimum are also likely to move in this direction. The regulations for implementing the law may be very important in shaping the possibilities.


There are still dangers even if a state pursues assessments rather than tests. A high degree of state standardization imposed on classroom assessments or an effort to make them simply resemble standardized tests could undermine their most important use, to help improve teaching and learning. Maine, for example, will write test items local districts can use to align with the state tests. The tight connection to standards requires reasonable, high-quality standards, which many states lack, as critics such as Alfie Kohn and Susan Ohanian have pointed out (see Examiner, Fall 1999, Summer 1999). Some funds for developing and implementing new assessments are provided in the legislation.


• For a description of Maine’s assessments, see
• The CARE plan is at