Advocacy Update: Department of Education Issues Testing Guidance for States

The Testing Action Plan guidance mirrors NAESP’s ESEA reauthorization recommendations.

By Kelly D. Pollitt
October 2015, Volume 39, Issue 2

As Congress recovers from the resignation of the Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), and Republicans grapple with his replacement, many lawmakers and advocates are reminding Congress that there is still time to finish a full reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). As we wait to see if Congress will take the formal steps to a conference committee (see details on ESEA update here) the U.S. Department of Education has issued non-binding policy guidance to states and districts regarding testing—guidance that NAESP is pleased to see mirrors its ESEA reauthorization recommendations.


According to the Testing Action Plan released over the weekend, states and districts must review and revise their approach to the frequency of tests currently administered in schools. The document provides Principles for Fewer and Smarter Assessments, which states that should drill-and-kill test prep should be eliminated and assessments should be understandable by parents and the students themselves, including how the data will be used. In addition, assessments should:

  • Be “worth taking” and provide timely feedback to guide instruction;
  • Be “high quality” and provide objective information on student knowledge and skills;
  • Align to state standards and allow students to demonstrate or apply knowledge;
  • Be fair and objective, and tie to student learning;
  • Provide an accurate measure of achievement and utilize growth models;
  • Take no more than 2 percent of classroom time (otherwise parents should be notified);

Finally, the plan describes that assessments should be one of multiple measures in an accountability system, in addition to metrics such as chronic absenteeism, student surveys, and indicators of discipline and school climate, which can help create a comprehensive understanding of students’ needs and how schools are doing. For educators, observations of practice, student surveys, and contributions to the school community can provide highly valuable information to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of performance, and to help educators strengthen their skills for the benefit of their students.

The Testing Action Plan also states that the principles will be issued in full regulation by January 2016 if Congress has not managed to reauthorize ESEA by that time. NAESP approves of the plan, but does not agree with the need to issue additional regulations. Instead, these issues should be handled as part of the ESEA reauthorization. In fact, the Administration’s plan mirrors NAESP’s recommendations to Congress back in February on the direction of federal assessment and accountability. Instead of waiting for new regulations, NAESP urges principals to use this non-binding policy guidance as a way to have important discussions in local communities with superintendents and state officials about revamping testing procedures, and working collaboratively to reduce the frequency and volume of tests that do not inform instruction.


In the interim, it should be clear over the coming weeks if Congress can muster the political will to finish the reauthorizing ESEA. We do know that Senate and House education committee staff continue to meet to discuss key differences between versions of the legislation, and are nearing the end of negotiations that would prime a conference committee to finish up a final bill quickly. If the new leadership in the House indicates a willingness to bring the education bill forward for full consideration (the new Speaker of the House), the “big four” education committee leaders—Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and Reps. John Kline (R-MN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA)—are expected to lead final negotiations on the remaining big issues. The issues revolve mainly around how a federal K-12 accountability system would require assessments be used, and how various federal education programs will be administered by states and districts (i.e block granted funds or formula).

Here is a recap of details surrounding the status of specific provisions in ESEA and the advocacy efforts engaged by NAESP on behalf of pre-K-8 principals. NAESP will continue to champion the interests of pre-K-8 principals as federal education reforms are considered. For more information, contact Kelly Pollitt at

Kelly D. Pollitt is NAESP’s Chief Strategist, Policy and Alliances.

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