Statewide Assessments in High School

Our Take

  • Statewide assessments are important for measuring how well schools, districts, and states are serving students. Importantly, data provided by statewide assessments allows us to closely monitor how well schools are serving historically marginalized and underserved groups.
  • High school assessments differ in requirements and design, and how assessments matter for students and schools from state to state. It is difficult to serve each of these purposes well with a single assessment, and the array of intended uses has resulted in a complex and sometimes incoherent system of high school assessments. 
  • States have made strides in improving the coherence of some of their policies – today students rarely take an assessment that matters for them that doesn’t matter for schools. But more work can be done to improve coherence in states’ policies.  

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Statewide assessments are vital to the public education ecosystem. They provide valuable data and information about how well schools are serving students, and they can offer insights into whether students—particularly marginalized student groups—are progressing toward college and career readiness. 

Achieve has historically tracked state assessment systems and how they are used for accountability, student stakes, and postsecondary placement. With states’ recent transitions to new assessments and accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Achieve is now sharing each state’s required 2018-19 high school assessments in an interactive data explorer  that allows for state-to-state comparisons, showing which assessments are being administered in every state and how those assessments are being used.

How do statewide assessments matter for students? In other words, what consequences do they have for students’ end-of-course grades or graduation? In mathematics and ELA, 20 states administer an assessment or assessments that matters for students’ graduation or grades. Thirteen of those states administer a science assessment or assessments that matters for students’ graduation or grades.

In terms of statewide accountability, or how statewide assessments matter for schools, all 50 states include mathematics and ELA assessments in their high school accountability systems (as is required by ESSA), 26 states elected to include a measure based on science performance in their accountability systems. And 10 states include a measure based on social studies performance in their accountability systems.

Achieve also analyzed which states have created statewide policies to use student results on a high school assessment to admit or place graduates into credit-bearing courses at 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities. Done well, these assessments signal to students the level of performance necessary for postsecondary success. The number of states that have adopted statewide policies to use high school assessments to place students into credit-bearing (non-remedial) coursework in postsecondary institutions has more than doubled since 2013, now up to 17 states. 

Still, students in many states take a variety of assessments that do not have such a value. They take assessments that matter for schools but do not signal meaning for students. 

The goal for states should be a coherent set of policies where all assessments have meaning for schools and students. 

Data Explorer