Overcoming Differences in Federal Accountability and Assessment Reform

Topics: Education Policy

Opt-out movements and decisions about whether to administer state assessments or calculate school rankings during the pandemic have elevated tense conversations about the role assessments and accountability play in our nation’s education system.

While good intentions abound, the complexity of these conversations continues to overshadow a shared solution that equips communities with the information they need to improve school quality.

Fortunately, productive struggle often leads to innovation, and this issue is long overdue for new ideas.

As an organization committed to personalized and competency-based learning, we believe in the critical role that assessments and accountability play in providing transparency, improving student outcomes and driving equity. We also believe current policies and systems have fallen short of their intended promise. Improvements are needed to ensure success. As stakeholders seek new strategies for improving education defined by greater personalization and broader definitions of success, there are questions about the utility of the federal assessment and accountability framework under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Why should state and local policymakers dismantle tracking? And how can they build more student-centered, equitable education systems?
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We don’t yet have all the answers for a new federal ESEA reauthorization, but we do have ideas for how to expand investment and innovation in assessment and accountability systems to gather the information we need to make responsive and responsible policies in the future. These include steps like:

  • Improving and expanding the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA) to remove barriers to innovation so more states can participate
  • Growing the Competitive Grants for State Assessments program to ensure more states have resources to try promising ideas
  • Permitting states and districts to pilot new accountability systems that better gauge school quality and uphold a focus on equity and distribution of resources to the students who need them

KnowledgeWorks is thinking deeply and critically about a set of policy solutions that will help our country create a bridge to the next reauthorization of ESEA. We plan to release ideas this summer for federal and state policymakers alike, and we welcome stakeholders and other organizations who share this commitment to engage with us on these key issues.

We are ready to overcome differences, and, in doing so, help our leaders build the assessment and accountability systems that are responsive to parents, educators, policymakers – and most importantly – the children that our system was designed to serve.

This report shares insights and innovations that have the potential to cast a new vision for K-12 assessment in this country.