This week the United States Department of Education (USED) announced much needed improvements to the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA), aiming to address many of the issues for which KnowledgeWorks and other student-centered learning organizations have long advocated. Most notably, USED recognized that our current assessments do not “always meet the mark” and celebrated the emergence of competency-based assessments that “can provide important information on how students apply what they learn.”
While a better IADA may not be the solution for every state, these agency actions represent a possible turning point in the department’s thinking on innovative assessments. This step moves USED toward fostering innovative assessments rather than enforcing compliance with often restrictive Federal requirements. These changes are not a substitute for Congress fixing flaws in the IADA and improving assessment requirements overall. However, they do give states a fighting chance to design improved assessment systems that can inspire improvements to future federal education laws.
The announcement from the department of education had several elements, including:
- There is no longer a cap on the number of states that can participate in IADA, with USED lifting the original seven state statutory cap. KnowledgeWorks has long argued that after a statutorily required evaluation of IADA that USED should expand IADA opportunities to new states.
- There are several alternative options for how states may meet IADA’s requirement that the new assessment demonstrate comparability to the test the state is looking to replace with the callout, “evaluating comparability does not require that the proficiency results be exactly the same between the two assessments.” This explicit clarification alleviates concerns expressed by KnowledgeWorks and numerous advocates in the field about the previous requirement, which appeared to stifle innovation rather than encouraging it.
- There is an opportunity for a state to be in a “planning status” phase as it works to apply for IADA. KnowledgeWorks has consistently recommended that states have time to plan before full implementation of their IADA participation.
- The USED has clearly signaled that they will grant extensions of a state’s IADA participation timeline to include a full seven years and possibly more on a case-by-case basis. KnowledgeWorks has consistently advocated that states should be able to propose the timeline that works best for their individual situation.
- IADA participation will now be offered through two time periods each year – early May and early December. The May period would be for those states seeking approval for an upcoming school year. USED’s announcement did not include details on whether they would open the IADA application period next month.
- Funding will be prioritized for innovative assessments under the Competitive Grants for State Assessments program in Fiscal Year 2024. KnowledgeWorks successfully advocated in the past for such a priority, as funding has remained a major barrier for states seeking to utilize IADA.
- External partners are encouraged to participate throughout the process of developing IADA assessments and experts have been invited to apply to serve as peer reviewers of IADA applications, including those that have experience with innovative assessments. KnowledgeWorks has encouraged USED for years to reexamine peer review requirements to better align with innovation and to recruit reviewers with particular expertise in personalized, competency-based education.
These new provisions will not be a cure-all for states seeking a path to adopt new innovative assessments, but an improved IADA marks an important turning point by the Department of Education to focus on innovation versus compliance. This just may be the start of a productive federal-state partnership in service of a better framework for the nation’s next K-12 reauthorization.