Statewide summative assessments are an essential tool to achieve education equity. Because these are the only tests that students take that produce data that is comparable across individual students, student groups, schools, and districts within a state, these federally required assessments serve several purposes:

  • Allow education leaders to target state and local resources to the students and schools with the greatest need and track whether these resources are impacting student achievement
  • Support educators in making annual shifts in instructional plans
  • Provide families and caregivers with a clear signal of how their child is achieving against grade-level standards, which is especially important in an era of rising grade inflation, which affects parent and family perceptions that often overstate how schools are meeting the needs of their student

Despite the importance of statewide assessments, research by EdTrust and others clearly shows that many state and district leaders, educators, students, and families find assessments to be overburdensome and unfair and don’t provide data that is timely or actionable. Statewide summative assessments are supposed to aid school improvement by providing a clear understanding of how schools are currently supporting student learning. To keep that promise, policymakers and test vendors must make targeted improvements to their assessments to increase their utility and value, thus alleviating the concerns of these important stakeholders.

Based on our research, EdTrust has developed four equity pillars that center our values and identify criteria for improving assessment policy:

Pillar 1 – Ensure Consistent, High Expectations for Student Success

Pilar 2 – Encourage Relevant, Inclusive Assessments

Pillar 3 – Provide Timely, Actionable, and Easily Accessible Results

Pillar 4 – Make Assessment Results Meaningful

EdTrust believes that states should be focused on making assessments more racially and culturally inclusive, building reporting structures that foster an understanding of student results and collaboration with families and educators, and redesigning assessments systems to provide educators with instructionally relevant data throughout the school year. While any of these efforts can be pursued individually, we encourage advocates and policymakers to consider how to address these goals simultaneously and in a coordinated, coherent manner.

Both federal and state policymakers have key roles to play in driving needed improvements to statewide summative assessments. Our work is focused on providing advocates with the tools and information needed to push for these changes in their communities.

Future of Assessments

The anchor paper for this work, Future of Assessments: Centering Equity and the Lived Experiences of Students, Families, and Educators presents findings from a series of focus groups, the equity pillars outlined above, and recommendations for how federal policy can support improvements in assessments, including in an eventual reauthorization of ESSA.

Advocates’ Guide to Demanding Racially and Culturally Inclusive State Assessments

Current state assessments are designed to eliminate questions that involve cultural topics and themes with the goal of eliminating bias. However, this approach ignores the fundamental impossibility of removing culture from learning and in the process defaults to centering white cultural norms. State advocates can encourage states and vendors to develop items and practices in alignment with EdTrust recommendations based on emerging work in the field and best practices in inclusive curriculum and pedagogy, along with a suite of advocacy tools.

Advocacy Tools

Making Assessment Reports More Meaningful for Students and Families

Our focus groups revealed that families have a difficult time both accessing and understanding reports of individual student results on state assessments. As a result, individual score reports remain largely underutilized, and seldom considered as a primary resource for families. We provide best practices for developing better reports and how to situate the results within the broader systems and engagement opportunities that parents depend on for trusted communication about their child’s academic performance and progress.

Advocacy Tools

(Coming Soon) Developing Equity-Centered Through-Year Assessments

The timing and design of current summative assessments don’t provide educators or school and district leaders with data that can inform decisions or instructional practices during the school year. Through-year assessments are a promising model for assessments that provide this type of information, while still providing the important comparable, summative scores that are so important for driving equitable decision-making. We outline key design considerations states need to make when developing these complex systems, with recommendations that we believe best center the needs of all students.