State Assessment Systems: A Report Card

One-third of state public school testing systems need a complete overhaul and another third need major improvements if they are to provide support for high quality teaching and learning, according to a new study by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), which evaluated assessment practices in all 50 states against standards endorsed by more than 80 organizations and scores of prominent education reformers. “While a small number have made significant progress,” says Monty Neill, FairTest’s associate director, “most are just tinkering at the edges of reform” on five key standards:

  • Assessment supports important student learning.
  • Assessments are fair.
  • Educators receive adequate professional development in assessment.
  • Systems are in place for public information, reporting, and ensuring parents’ rights.
  • Assessment systems are regularly reviewed and improved.

Most states do not do a good job of including students with special needs or those with limited English proficiency in state assessments by making appropriate accommodations or administering alternative tests, FairTest concluded. Teacher training in assessment remains weak in most states. And few states do a good job of evaluating the impact of their testing programs on classroom teaching and learning.

The states with top rankings in the FairTest survey tend to rely on multiple measures of achievement, including strong use of performance assessments or portfolios, and do not make high-stakes decisions based on the results of any one exam. Some rely on sampling for school and district accountability rather than testing every child.

Vermont, Maine and Kentucky primarily rely on extended, constructed-response, performance and portfolio assessments, the study found, and Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Colorado are among those that make “substantial use” of such methods.

Also on the positive side, the report found that 38 states now use writing samples, although 34 simply require students to respond to a prompt, thus fostering and evaluating a limited conception of writing. Most states also pay substantial attention to bias reduction in designing their assessments.

“Testing Our Children: A Report Card on State Assessment Systems” may be ordered from FairTest, 342 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139 (tel.:    617-864-4810   617-864-4810 ; fax 617-497-2224. The executive summary and all the individual state reports are also on the FairTest web site: