Why do we need state-level education assessments? Here’s why

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) altered American public education by devolving authority from the federal government to the states.

That shift created an opportunity — and a need —for an independent method of evaluating state accountability plans above and beyond mere “compliance” and for sharing what works best.

That’s why the Collaborative for Student Success in partnership with Bellwether Education Partners and more than 30 independent, nationally-recognized education experts released Check State Plans.

The site breaks down specific state practices across a series of categories and provides an assessment of each state’s accountability plan based on the peer reviewers’ feedback.

{mosads}Seventeen U.S. states recently submitted these plans to the U.S. Department of Education, as required by ESSA. The remaining states will submit their plans later this year.


But while the plans are required by law, they are far more than a rote bureaucratic exercise.

They lay out how states will set high student expectations, how they will close achievement gaps in math and English, how they will identify and improve failing schools and how they will ensure parents get access to meaningful data to make the best decisions for their kids.

Exploring these plans and sharing both their strengths and weaknesses is a healthy exercise in transparency and a chance for states to learn from each other.

More than 30 policy experts lent their expertise to this review process, following a rubric aligned to the federal peer review process. They represent a range of bipartisan viewpoints and consist of former state policymakers and members of the civil rights and disability communities.

The experts highlighted several promising practices at the state level. They found that most states are using more robust measures of school quality, beyond just reading and math, including science, art and physical education — and are pursuing a number of innovative college and career readiness indicators at the high school level.

But the analysis also outlined room for improvement.

In one key finding, the reviewers concluded that state plans lack specificity in critical areas. For example, with the exceptions of New Mexico and Tennessee, states have not yet adequately addressed how they plan to use federal funds to help increase student achievement, increase options for students, or intervene in chronically low-performing schools.

Tony Bennett, former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, served as a peer reviewer for this project. He pulled no punches about how important the plans are for the future of public education.

These plans afford states “the opportunity to take bold and innovative action and change the course of education for their students,” he said.

We hope this wide-ranging objective analysis will provide state policymakers, educators and advocates with authoritative, non-governmental guidance from concerned and respected education experts.

Jim Cowen is executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based Collaborative for Student Success.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Education Education reform ESSA states
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