Assessing Test Quality

States are upgrading their tests to prioritize the skills and knowledge that matter most today. These new tests take more time as students are required to do more writing and thinking. Independent reviews are showing some—especially the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests—are better than others. Still, too many state tests haven’t been seriously reviewed; they have promises for how they are better or measure what states expect but little evidence to back these claims.

Why should we care? A test that measures limited skills, relies primarily on multiple choice questions or doesn’t match a state’s expectations for student learning is a waste of money, time and effort.

The resources below offer state and local education leaders findings and the methodologies from recent state assessment reviews (conducted by assessment experts and educators) and guidance for how state leaders can organize their own reviews.


Resource Name



Education First’s “Path to Testing that Matters”

This infographic illustrates the steps and questions  policymakers, education leaders and advocates should pursue as they evaluate the quality of their state’s assessments. Use the graphic as part of PPT presentations or newsletters or as its handout. View Infographic

Choices and Trade-offs: Key Questions for State Policymakers When Selecting High School Assessments

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states the flexibility to decide how to measure student success in high school. This guide—developed with the input of testing and state policy experts across the country and written by Erin O’Hara (a former state assessment and accountability leader)—is designed to elevate the trade-offs between using state- or nationally-developed assessments. The guide proposes a series of issues policymakers should investigate to determine which approach best matches state priorities. View Guide

NNSTOY Reviews  of State Tests

The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) summarizes findings of their studies comparing two new tests that many states are now using to measure college- and career-ready expectations (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) with prior state tests. Its first study in 2015 looked at tests in Delaware, Illinois, New Hampshire and New Jersey, while its second study in 2016 looked at tests in Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Both studies engaged award-winning classroom teachers to conduct the reviews. The new state tests were judged as higher quality and more reflective of excellent teaching practices. View Study from 2015


View Study from 2016

Fordham Institute State Test Review

Fordham Institute’s 2016 review and webinar discussion of three new multi-state tests (ACT Aspire, PARCC, and Smarter Balanced) and the best-in-class of previous state assessments, Massachusetts’ state exam (MCAS) reveals valuable insight into how well each meets independent criteria for quality and alignment to college- and career-ready standards. Performed in cooperation with HumRRO (see below), the Fordham review looked at 5th and 8th grade tests. Watch Webinar


View Report

HumRRO State Test Review

In 2016, the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) released its review on the content and quality of next generation high school assessments as measured against independent criteria. HumRRO researchers and experts examined ACT Aspire, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced). HumRRO conducted its review of high-school tests in collaboration with the Fordham Institute (see above), which looked at the same tests but for 5th and 8th grade students. View Report

CCSSO’s High Quality Assessment Criteria

In 2014 CCSSO, in partnership with Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), developed a set of principles to guide state leaders and district leaders in making sure state assessments are high-quality, coherent, and meaningful to students, parents and teachers. View Criteria

Center for Assessment’s Methodology to Review Standardized Assessments for Alignment to College- and Career- Ready Standards

These resources were developed by the Center to support state policymakers and researchers in conducting comprehensive evaluations of standardized state assessments measuring college- and career-ready standards. View Methodology

Assessment 101 for School Boards

Achieve’s professional development module for local school board members is designed to:

  • Outline the critical role school boards play in supporting high quality assessment systems;
  • Introduce school board members to key assessment concepts and issues;
  • Provide an introduction to the Student Assessment Inventory for School Districts as a process to streamline testing and support limited, high-quality assessments for all students.
View Module

Education First’s Fewer and Better Local Assessments: A Toolkit for Educators

Education First assembled this toolkit to provide actionable, step-by-step guidance for school system leaders to build a clear, coherent and aligned system of high-quality assessments. A clear, coherent and aligned system of high-quality assessments has the fewest assessments possible, but still has multiple assessments, each with clearly defined and understood purposes and uses. View Toolkit

Achieve’s Student Assessment Inventory for School Districts

This tool offers district leaders ways to take stock of their assessments and assessment strategy through authentic parent and student engagement. View Tool