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K–12 Education: Better Planning Could Help DOD Schools Implement Changes to Standardized Testing

GAO-24-106322 Published: Oct 16, 2023. Publicly Released: Oct 16, 2023.
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Fast Facts

This Q&A report reviews standardized testing practices in the Department of Defense's school system. DOD operates schools around the world, primarily for military families.

Like public schools, DOD schools administer standardized tests. Our study found that students in DOD schools spent more time on average taking standardized tests compared to students in 9 school districts near military bases.

A DOD working group has found ways to improve DOD's testing policies and reduce testing time. But DOD's implementation plan for this work doesn't follow leading project management practices for ensuring the changes happen. We recommended it do so.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) operates a school system that primarily serves military-connected families. DODEA, like traditional public school districts, uses standardized tests—tests administered and scored in a preset, standard manner—to assess academic progress of students over time.

Federal testing requirements for traditional public school districts that receive funding under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended, do not apply to DODEA. However, DODEA developed a Comprehensive Assessment System to align agency testing with its curriculum standards. Standardized tests under this system are administered DODEA-wide. DODEA's Comprehensive Assessment System testing requirements differ from other federal testing requirements in terms of subjects covered, frequency of tests, and how testing information is used.

In addition to standardized tests required through the Comprehensive Assessment System, seven of the eight DODEA districts chose to administer additional standardized tests in school year 2022–23. Because this additional standardized testing varied across districts, the amount of time that DODEA students spent taking standardized tests also varied across districts.

According to GAO's analysis, DODEA students spent more time on standardized tests throughout a student's K¬–12 education, compared to students in nine selected public school districts. Specifically, DODEA students averaged about 24 school days while students in the nine districts averaged about 16 school days across grades K–12.

In 2021, DODEA convened a working group made up of agency leadership, school principals, teachers, and other instructional staff to review and recommend changes to the testing policies and procedures under the Comprehensive Assessment System. DODEA has begun implementing some of the recommendations from the working group, and has developed a draft implementation plan. However, the plan does not follow several leading project management practices, such as how progress will be tracked and reviewed, or explain how stakeholders would be involved in decision-making and execution. Incorporating such practices into the implementation plan would help DODEA monitor progress towards improving its testing system and would provide an important opportunity to increase accountability, transparency, and communication about its efforts for working group stakeholders.

Why GAO Did This Study

Senate Report No. 117-130 accompanying the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 includes a provision for GAO to review standardized testing in DODEA schools. GAO's review examined standardized test requirements and the amount of time DODEA students spend on standardized tests, and how this compares to selected public schools.

To do this work, GAO used a questionnaire to collect information about testing requirements and time spent on testing from DODEA headquarters, all eight DODEA districts, and from a non-generalizable sample of nine public school districts. These nine districts were located near large military installations and, in some cases, near DODEA schools. GAO reviewed agency documents on testing policies and procedures, and interviewed agency officials in charge of testing policy in all three DODEA regions, and seven of the eight districts.


GAO recommends that DODEA's implementation plan for the recommendations from its working group comport with leading project management practices by including information about how progress will be tracked and reviewed, and how stakeholders will be involved. DODEA agreed with our recommendation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that DODEA's implementation plan for the recommendations from the Balanced Assessment System Working Group comports with leading project management practices by including information about how progress will be tracked and reviewed, and how stakeholders will be involved.
DODEA agreed with this. DODEA noted that it developed an implementation plan for the Balanced Assessment Working Group findings that were based on the initial documents designed to garner stakeholder support. However, DODEA has not yet provided an updated plan that comports with leading project management practices, such as how progress will be tracked and reviewed. We look forward to reviewing such a plan when it becomes available.

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