Young girl with her head bent over the test she's takingUpdated June 2023

Welcome to Section 3 of the Stakeholder Guide to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  This guide provides Parent Center staff and their advocacy partners with an understanding of key provisions in ESSA, so that they may become meaningfully involved in how the law is now planned and implemented by the states. The guide is presented on the CPIR website in several sections (web pages) to enhance your quick access to its many topics. This is Section 3, where you’ll find information about ESSA’s requirements for academic assessments, including:

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The Basics of ESSA’s Academic Assessment Provisions

States must implement a set of high-quality student academic assessments in mathematics, reading or language arts, and science, administered yearly to all as follows:

Mathematics | In each of grades 3 through 8; and at least once in grades 9 through 12

Reading or language arts | In each of grades 3 through 8; and at least once in grades 9 through 12

Science | Not less than one time during grades 3 through 5; grades 6 through 9; and grades 10 through 12

These assessments must:

Be designed to be valid and accessible for use by all students, including students with disabilities and English learners;

Be developed, to the extent practicable, using the principles of universal design for learning;

Involve multiple up-to-date measures of student academic achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding, which may include measures of student academic growth and may be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks;

Provide coherent and timely information about student attainment of the standards and whether a student is performing at the grade level in which the student is enrolled; and

Enable results to be disaggregated within the state, LEA, and school by:

o Gender;

o Each major racial and ethnic group;

o Children with disabilities as defined in section 602(3) of IDEA as compared to all other students;

o Economically disadvantaged students as compared to students who are not economically disadvantaged;

o Status as:

 an English learner
 a migratory child
 a homeless child or youth
 a child in foster care
 a student with a parent who is a member of the Armed Forces on active duty or serves on full-time National Guard duty

ESSA allows states to accomplish the annual assessment requirement in a variety of ways. Assessments may be administered:

  • through a single summative assessment (the typical one-time, end-of-year assessment); or
  • through multiple statewide interim assessments during the course of the school year. (Such assessments must result in a single summative score that provides valid, reliable, and transparent information on student achievement or growth).

States may also administer assessments in the form of computer-adaptive assessments (CAT), as long as the assessments measure a student’s academic proficiency based on the academic standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled and growth toward those standards. A CAT can also measure the student’s level of academic proficiency and growth using items above or below the student’s enrolled grade level.

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Universal Design for Learning and Assessment Accommodations

ESSA includes several references to Universal Design for Learning. ESSA incorporates the definition of Universal Design for Learning, as found at Section 103 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1003), which means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that:

Provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and

Reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and English learners.
(Section 8101 (51))

States must provide the appropriate accommodations, such as interoperability with, and ability to use, assistive technology, for children with disabilities (as defined by IDEA), including students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, and students with a disability who are provided accommodations under an Act other than the IDEA, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, necessary to measure the academic achievement of such children. (Section 1111 (b)(2)(B)(vii)(II))

More information about assessment accommodation can be found in the CCSSO Accessibility Manual: How to Select, Administer, and Evaluate Use of Accessibility Supports for Instruction and Assessment of All Students  (Word, 1.1 MB)

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English Language Proficiency Assessments

In addition to the annual assessments in reading or language arts, math, and science, states must also provide for the annual assessment of English language proficiency of all English learners in the schools.

English learners must also be included in the state’s reading or language arts, math, and science assessments, and they must be provided appropriate accommodations including, to the extent practicable, assessments in the language and form most likely to yield accurate data on what such students know and can do in academic content areas, until such students have achieved English language proficiency. (Section 111 (b)(2)(B)(vi)(III)

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Exceptions, Exceptions, Exceptions

ESSA allows several exceptions to the assessment requirements outlined above. These include:

Alternate Assessments Aligned with Alternate Academic Achievement Standards (Section 1111 (b)(2)(D))
States may administer alternate assessments aligned with alternate academic achievement standards. These alternate assessments may be administered only to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

The total number of students assessed using the alternate assessments may not exceed 1% of the total number of all students in the state assessed in each subject. States must establish and monitor implementation of clear and appropriate guidelines for IEP teams to apply in determining, on a case-by-case basis, which students with the most significant cognitive disabilities will be assessed based on alternate academic achievement standards. Federal regulations will provide additional clarity and information.

Recently Arrived English Learners (Section 1111 (b)(3))
A state may exempt a recently arrived English learner from one administration of the state’s reading or language arts assessment. Alternatively, a state may assess and report on reading or language arts and math for the first year a student is enrolled, but not include those results in the accountability system.

Middle School Mathematics (Section 1111 (b)(2)(C))
A state may exempt an eighth-grade student from the math assessment typically administered in eighth grade and replace it with the end-of-course math assessment the state administers to high school students.

Nationally Recognized High School Academic Assessment (Section 1111 (b)(2)(H))
A state may permit a local school district to select a nationally recognized high school academic assessment that has been approved for use by the state to use as its high school assessment in reading or language arts, math, and science.

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Parent Center Action Items

Find out how the state will ensure that students with disabilities are provided adequate instruction in how to use the accessibility features in the state assessment.

Find out how the state will ensure that students with disabilities are provided ample time to practice using the accessibility features in the state assessment.

Ensure the state plan includes the steps the state has taken to incorporate universal design for learning into the design of assessments.

Participate in the development of the guidelines and definitions regarding students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, including the procedures the state will adopt in order to monitor compliance in local school districts.

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Helpful Resources

Lessons Learned About Instruction from Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in College and Career Ready Assessments, National Center on Educational Outcomes, 2016. (PDF, 412 kb)

Lessons Learned About Assessment from Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in College and Career Ready Assessments, National Center on Educational Outcomes, 2016. (PDF, 286 kb)

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Authorship | This guide has been produced in a partnership between the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) and The Advocacy Institute under a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. The Center for Parent Information and Resources is a project of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, Inc.


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Index of Sections in the Stakeholder Guide to the ESSA
The Stakeholder Guide to the ESSA is presented in separate sections. Which section would you like to read now?

1 | Background, Structure of the ESSA, Implementation Timeline, State Plans, Stakeholder Engagement

2 | Academic Content Standards and Achievement Standards 

3 | Academic Assessments (You’re already here!)

4 | Statewide Accountability System

5 | Identification of Schools in Need

6 | Annual Report Cards

7 | Conclusion and Resources

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