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ESSA and Testing

Less testing = more learning
Published: June 23, 2020

The Every Student Succeeds Act takes steps to reduce standardized testing, and decouples testing and high-stakes decision making. Both are major improvements over No Child Left Behind’s one-size-fits-all approach to accountability, and the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria for granting waivers to the law.


Annual statewide standardized testing: Continues annual statewide standardized tests in reading and math in grades 3-8, and once in high schools. Districts can seek approval to use the SAT, ACT, another nationally recognized assessment, or Advanced Placement assessments, to fulfill the high school requirement — a potential reduction in federally-required standardized testing. 

State pilot program: ESSA creates a pilot program for local assessments driven by teaching and learning, not accountability alone, that could be used in place of the state’s standardized tests. The pilot program exists in seven states, initially. 

Opt-out policies: ESSA requires school districts to inform parents and guardians of opt-out policies, and allows them to have their children opt out of statewide standardized tests where state and local policies permit

Caps on standardized tests: Allows states to set a cap limiting the amount of time students spend taking annual standardized tests

Incorporates the SMART Act: This move provides funding for states to audit and streamline assessments, and eliminate those that are unnecessary or duplicative. 

Eliminates Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP): AYPs were the impossible, one size fits all goal driving No Child Left Behind’s failed accountability system.

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