Using Interim Assessments in place of Summative Assessments? Consideration of an ESSA Option

ASR ESSA Interim Considerations

Replacing summative assessment with interim1 assessment is, for many, a seemingly attractive proposition. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows for such replacement, stating that state’s accountability assessments may “be administered through multiple statewide interim assessments” to provide “valid, reliable, and transparent information on student achievement or growth” (ESSA, §1111(b)(2)(B)(viii)). This interest in using multiple interim assessments in place of a single summative assessment is not new. It was also reflected in the Competitive Preference Priority 1 of the now closed Enhanced Assessment Grants Program (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). The grant program called for “approaches to transform traditional, end-of-year summative assessment forms with many items into a series of modular assessment forms, each with fewer items than the end-ofyear summative assessment” (p. 5). It also appeared in the Race to the Top grant’s course assessment model under which a “student’s results from through-course summative assessment must be combined to produce the student’s total summative assessment score for that academic year” (Overview information; Race to the Top Fund Assessment Program, 2010, p. 18,178).

The implication of this provision is that the single summative score is to be used as the indicator of academic achievement within the state’s accountability system (i.e., “academic achievement, as measured by proficiency on the annual assessments” (ESSA, §1111(b)(2)(B)(v) (I))). The single summative score and the system of interim assessments that produce it will therefore need to address the same standards of quality that are addressed by traditional programs of statewide summative assessment. Instead of one single statewide summative assessment, a system of multiple interim assessments, collectively, will need to produce a score that is “valid, reliable and transparent” (ibid).

Developing and implementing these kinds of systems of interim assessments represent uncharted territory. Although they have been subtly promoted by the U.S. Department of Education, they have never been researched in detail nor put into practice. There are many technical and practical challenges inherent to such systems, many of which currently lack clear solutions. In addition, any set of assessments used to meet the ESSA interim provision will need to, collectively, meet the requirements of federal-peer review. Current commercially available interim assessments, then, will likely need additional documentation, development, or both. In some cases, commercial interim assessments many not meet a state’s needs (e.g., interim assessments designed to measure a specific subset of standards), meaning new interim assessments will need to be developed.

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