Will Minnesota Apply for ESSA’s Innovative Assessment Pilot?

On January 3, the US Department of Education (USDE) issued a notice informing states that they can apply for the Innovative Assessment Pilot, which is part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). States were encouraged, but not required, to inform USDE by February 2 if they intended to apply.

Four states—Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana, and New Hampshire—told USDE they are interested in applying to participate in the Pilot. However, this is not binding. Other states could apply by the April 2 deadline, or the four states that expressed initial interest could change their mind.

What is the Innovative Assessment Pilot?

Like NCLB, ESSA requires states to use a statewide standardized test in grades 3-8 and once in high school for English and mathematics. However, ESSA also created an opportunity for up to seven states—or groups of states—to participate in the Innovative Assessment Pilot and try new kinds of assessments in a select number of districts in lieu of the state assessment.

The Pilot was inspired by the work that New Hampshire has done with their Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) accountability system, which they were able to do with flexibilities from a NCLB waiver.

When ESSA was passed in December 2015, one of the most talked about components of the law was this Pilot. In 2016, the Center for American Progress wrote, “Indeed, these pilot states will have the freedom to imagine a testing system of the future in which standardized tests taken on one day each year are no longer the typical way of assessing student learning.”

Why Aren’t More States Applying?

Even though the Pilot initially garnered a lot of interest and excitement, there are a lot of restrictions in ESSA that make participating a challenge. Some of the requirements are:

  • States try out the new assessments with a broad cross-section of students
  • Assessments must be comparable to other state tests
  • Assessments must eventually be scaled statewide

Not only are there stringent requirements, but the Pilot does not provide any additional funds for states.

Will Minnesota be Applying?

Doubtful. In several ESSA Committee meetings, Commissioner Cassellius indicated that Minnesota did not currently have the capacity to pursue such an endeavor. Additionally, the majority of the Future Assessment Design Working Group that MDE convened in 2017 decided against using other ESSA flexibilities regarding assessment, such as administering interim assessments.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on the development of States’ Innovative Assessment Pilots.

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