No Child Left Behind Act: Enhancements in the Department of Education's Review Process Could Improve State Academic Assessments

GAO-09-911 Published: Sep 24, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 2009.
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The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLBA) requires states to develop high-quality academic assessments aligned with state academic standards. Education has provided states with about $400 million for NCLBA assessment implementation every year since 2002. GAO examined (1) changes in reported state expenditures on assessments, and how states have spent funds; (2) factors states have considered in making decisions about question (item) type and assessment content; (3) challenges states have faced in ensuring that their assessments are valid and reliable; and (4) the extent to which Education has supported state efforts to comply with assessment requirements. GAO surveyed state and District of Columbia assessment directors, analyzed Education and state documents, and interviewed assessment officials from Maryland, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Texas and eight school districts in addition to assessment vendors and experts.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education To help ensure the validity and reliability of ESEA assessments, the Secretary of Education should update Education's peer review protocols to incorporate best practices in assessment security when they become available in spring 2010.
Closed – Implemented
Education stated that it recognized the value of this recommendation. On May 31, 2013, Education provided monitoring questions they are field testing, which are based on best practices in test security to be included in new monitoring protocols.
Department of Education To improve the efficiency of Education's peer review process, the Secretary of Education should develop methods for peer reviewers and states to communicate directly during the peer review process so questions that arise can be addressed quickly. For example, peer reviewers could be assigned a generic e-mail address that would allow them to remain anonymous but still allow them to communicate directly with states.
Closed – Implemented
Education said that it is looking into using a secure server as a means for state officials to communicate with reviewers during the peer review process, and that this would strengthen the process. In 2012, Education told us that they had incorporated real time email communication during the peer review process using staff's secure email accounts within the Department system.
Department of Education To improve the transparency of its approval decisions pertaining to states' standards and assessment systems and help states understand what they need to do to improve their systems, in cases where the Secretary of Education's peer review decisions differed from those of the reviewers, the Secretary should explain why they differed.
Closed – Not Implemented
The Department of Education (ED) indicated that, in response to the recommendation, it would conduct a conference call in advance of upcoming peer reviews to clarify why ED's decisions in some cases differ from peer reviewers' written comments. In 2012, ED reported that the agency had been taking this action since March 2009. However, this was before our September 2009 report was released, and as of the report's release we still found a need for improvement. In May 2013, Education told us that they are suspending peer review to revise the process.

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