The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Negotiated Rulemaking Committee convened again Tuesday in Washington, D.C. with energetic and dynamic conversations surrounding assessments, with the importance of local governance reinforced by negotiators during the second discussion item on eighth-grade assessments. National School Boards Association (NSBA) officials attended the committee meeting and provided the following summary.
Negotiators resumed their conversation relating to the use of computer-adaptive tests (CATs) — Issue Paper #1
- Discussed the use of such assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Specifically, the use of CATs as alternative assessments aligned to alternate academic achievement standards and whether it is possible to measure the student’s grade-level achievement while simultaneously measuring achievement.
- Asked questions about the interplay of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) with use of CATs to assess students with the most cognitive disabilities, focusing on the role of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team in determining if such assessments should be used with regard to a particular student.
- Discussed limitations and options relating to using CATs, but focused on whether the use of assessments were psychometrically valid, reliable and fair.
- Focused on provisions of ESSA that need additional explanation or guidance – for both states and local school districts when draft regulatory language was discussed.
The second topic focused on the provisions in ESSA that provided flexibility to states and schools districts for students who take advanced mathematics assessments in the eighth grade (Issue Paper #2). The previous NCLB requirement was extremely burdensome for school districts that offer advanced mathematics coursework in the eighth grade, and U.S. Education Department staff detailed the ways states have had to comply with provisions over the last several years.
The Department and negotiators discussed proposed language implementing the exception. Negotiators urged the Department to implement the provision in a manner that allowed flexibility to states and districts to determine the best manner to implement the exception. Negotiators and the Department focused on equity, examining student access to advanced mathematics coursework. Negotiators discussed various ways the Department could address opportunity and help states ensure that all students have access to advanced coursework. Negotiators seem to recognize the importance of this exception in alleviating unnecessary requirements that previously required school districts to “double-test” students.
Department staff, in coordination with the committee’s facilitator decided to slightly adjust the agenda and consider Issue Paper #4a and Issue Paper #4b, which cover students with disabilities and assessments. Department staff provided a brief overview, and negotiators were given an opportunity to ask questions about assessments—in general—and, in particular, the issue of assessing students with disabilities. Negotiators also discussed the issue of meaningful access, focusing specifically on the ability of students with disabilities to access general curriculum. Negotiators seemed to recognize that formal regulations may not be the best way for Education Department to address equity, and referenced the possibility of providing guidance, technical assistance, or using the peer review process to address equity. Negotiators discussed principles of UDL and whether such principles should be incorporated into Education Department guidance. Several negotiators referenced the impact of the guidance on teachers, school leaders, and local school districts.
The 1 percent cap (Issue Paper #4b) that existed under NCLB that applies to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, and detailed changes to the cap, as implemented by ESSA was a topic considered. Negotiators discussed:
- The effect of the cap on IEP teams and teachers;
- Whether the cap has a chilling effect on IEP team/ teachers;
- Whether to define “most significant cognitive disabilities” in regulations promulgated by the Education Department;
- How the state should monitor the use of the alternative assessment;
- Options for compliance activities, such as focusing on LEA/SEA collaborative efforts to reduce use of the test, when necessary;
- Whether/How the Education Department should hold states accountable for exceeding the 1 percent cap;
- Whether students with significant cognitive disabilities are over/under identified;
Negotiators will be forming a subcommittee to discuss issues related to assessing students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.
Before concluding the day’s proceedings, the negotiated rulemaking committee began discussing the ESSA provision (Issue Paper #3) that authorizes local school district to request to use a nationally recognized high school assessment in lieu of the state assessment. The committee discussed what it means for an assessment to be considered “nationally recognized.” Negotiators pointed to several factors that contribute to an assessment being considered “nationally recognized.” Most notably, negotiators expressed concern that nationally recognized assessments should not have disparate outcomes for students and should be able to offer accommodations for students with disabilities and English learners. Negotiators provided mixed comments as to whether states should be charged with defining “nationally recognized” or whether the Education Department should define the term in some form of guidance.
Negotiators discussed possible safeguards that the Education Department may implement to ensure that all students within a district have equal access to and receive educational benefits from district-selected assessments. Negotiators discussed whether, in instances where a district requests to use a nationally recognized assessment, all students in the district should be required to be assessed with the assessment. Negotiators also addressed implementing possible requirements for districts considering requesting to use a nationally recognized assessment, including offering a public comment period for parents and members of the community to weigh in on the decision/request prior to submission to the state. Negotiators seemed to all agree that regulations would be necessary to fully implement this provision of ESSA. Negotiators addressed that the statutory requirements and criteria assessment must meet in order to be considered as a nationally-recognized assessment.
Negotiators are scheduled to meet again Wednesday.