Education Policy Issues

AASA is committed to being a resource for school system leaders in all aspects of public education, including educational issues such as assessment and testing, ESEA implementation, rural education issues, vouchers and school choice initiatives and many others.

This page includes information on:

Assessment and Accountability

Almost all efforts to improve schooling rely on assessment and accountability systems. Sort out the different proposals and find out what will work best for your students.

Assessing Special Populations

  • Assessing Special Education Students (CCSSO, 2013)
    The Assessing Special Education Students (ASES) SCASS addresses the inclusion of students with disabilities in large-scale assessment, standards, and accountability systems and the effects of these systems on related educational reform efforts.
  • Assessment and Accommodations for English Language (July, 2008)
    As the ELL population has grown, so has the need to include these students in large-scale testing programs. Recent legislation, from the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), through the enactment of the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA) of 1994, has mandated the inclusion of English language learners in large-scale academic assessments administered in English.

Exit Exams

Formative and Adaptive Assessments

Growth Measures

  • Growth Measures for Systemic Change (The School Administrator, January 2007)
    Through periodic learning assessments, educators can quickly size up how much their students have grown from quarter to quarter or from year to year, allowing decisions about which instructional programs are most effective and how to reallocate resources to areas of need.
  • Separating Growth From Value Added (The School Administrator, January 2007)
    Two academic growth models offer different tools for different purposes – one measuring individual learning and the other measuring what affects student learning.

High-Stakes Assessment and General Assessment Information

  • Sound Assessment Through Proper Policy (The School Administrator, January 2007)
    Aligning a school board policy manual with the faculty handbook would be an excellent application of systems thinking in support of school district mission and goals.
  • Living (or Dying) With Your NCLB Tests (The School Administrator, December 2003)
    A longtime authority on student assessment says the ability of public schools to meet federal expectations will depend on the instructional sensitivity of the tests in use. He harbors severe doubts.
  • The Failed Metaphors of Testing (The School Administrator, December 2003)
    Public images of student assessment are influenced significantly by the cultural symbols of the one-room schoolhouse, sports competition, the factory model and Disney. The authors’ essay is drawn from their book on the unintended effects of high-stakes tests.
  • Errors in Standardized Tests: A Systemic Problem (PDF, May 2003)
    From the National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy at Boston College.
  • Perceived Effects of State-Mandated Testing Programs on Teaching and Learning: Findings from a National Survey of Teachers (PDF, March 2003)
    State testing programs are leading teachers to change both what they teach and how they teach, according to a new report by The National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy at Boston College.
  • The Impact of High-Stakes Tests on Student Academic Performance(PDF, January 2002)
    This study from the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University looked at data from 28 states where high-stakes testing programs are already in place and found no systemic evidence of improved achievement after states implemented high-stakes testing programs.
  • An Analysis of Some Unintended and Negative Consequences of High-Stakes Testing (PDF, December 2002)
    This study from the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University examined the unintended consequences of high-stakes tests in 16 states that have implemented high-stakes graduation exams.
  • Using Data to Improve Schools: What’s Working (PDF, June 2002)
    School system leaders and their staffs can learn how to build a districtwide culture of inquiry using data for sound decision-making. School board members, parents and community members committed to school improvement will find useful tools in this guide. Also included are challenges and successes of educators from large and small districts committed to using data.
  • Building Tests To Support Instruction and Accountability (PDF, October 2001)
    The Commission on Instructionally Sensitive Assessment, convened by AASA and four other educational associations, developed nine requirements for a new generation of statewide tests. Tests written to these requirements, the commission believes, will benefit students by providing educators with information they can use to improve the quality of instruction.

Multiple Measures

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)


  • The State of State Standards 2010 (July 2010)
    This 2010 review from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation examines states progress in clearly spelling out suitable goals for the skills and knowledge that children should possess by the end of each grade.
  • State Content Standards: A 50-State Resource
    This publication offers information on K-12 academic standards and a direct link to each state's current standards in various subjects. The data was gathered from state education department websites by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Value Added

  • The Revelations of Value Added (The School Administrator, December 2004)
    A relatively new approach to student assessment isolates the impact of instruction on learning, offering diagnostic information on performance at the classroom level. In time, as teachers and administrators grow more comfortable, value-added may serve as the basis for holding individual educators accountable.
  • Why Add Value in Assessment? (The School Administrator, December 2004)
    A pilot project in Ohio involving 78 school districts is creating some enthusiasm among school leaders about the merits of value-added assessment as a management tool. A nonprofit affiliate of the Ohio Business Roundtable created the project, which involves urban, suburban and rural schools.
  • Districts Pilot Value-Added Assessment (The School Administrator, December 2004)
    Bill Sanders has been talking about a new way to analyze school test data for more than 20 years. Of late, school system leaders in several states are finding the advantages of measuring a student’s performance not against that of fellow students but against his or her own past performance.

Related Assessment Websites

Declining Enrollment and Fast Growth

One issue of great concern to many districts, both rural and suburban/urban, is declining enrollment.

Many rural counties, particularly those with already-low population density, are seeing massive depopulation as farm economies change and families move to cities in search of work. Many suburban/urban areas face decline with demographic changes or rising housing costs.

AASA, in response to concerns from members, is continuing to research and seek solutions—how to provide a quality education in the face of declining enrollment and declining resources.

AASA Declining Enrollment Resources: From our Stand Up for Public Education™ campaign, you can access white papers, articles and PowerPoint presentations focused on declining enrollment, its impacts on schools and communities across the country and other related topics.

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Many other districts face the challenges of fast growth. How can large increases in enrollment be accommodated?

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Trying to determine the best way to evaluate a new program?

Designing a personnel evaluation system for your principals and teachers, or wondering how to best suggest your board evaluate you? What do you need to know about how students in your district are evaluated? AASA is a member of the Joint Committee for Standards in Educational Evaluation, which develops high-quality standards for evaluation.

Tools for Members

  • AASA helped to shape the Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008 as adopted by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA), which is now available through the Council of Chief State School Officers.
  • The Student Evaluation Standards issued by the JCSEE at Western Michigan University provide 28 standards for the design, implementation, assessment and improvement student evaluation systems. These standards are designed to be used by teachers, school administrators, students, parents/guardians, school counselors and psychologists and teacher educators.
  • The Program Evaluation Standards issued by the JCSEE at Western Michigan University provide standards for the evaluation of educational programs, projects and materials.
  • The Personnel Evaluation Standards issued by the JCSEE at Western Michigan University are intended to ensure that a personnel evaluation will be conducted legally, ethically, and with due regard for the welfare of the evaluatee and those involved in the evaluation. The standards are designed for the use of evaluation systems such as those for teachers, principals, or superintendents.

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Graduation Rates

Despite the heated debate, all graduation rates are just estimates.

Graduation rates are everywhere in the news. Interestingly, all the numbers are just estimates — nobody knows for sure who’s graduating nationwide or even statewide. States are moving towards more standardized and accurate measures of graduation while figuring out how best to account for the accomplishments of special needs students, English language learners and other groups.

Tools For AASA Members

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High School Improvement

The continuous improvement of high schools presents a unique challenge.

High schools receive just a tiny fraction of federal funding but have been the focus of a great deal of attention in recent years. And yet high schools do not stand alone from the larger system of schooling; high school improvement must be considered in the context of the entire school system.

Tools for Members

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Pension Portability

These words echo some of the frustration felt on both sides of the table when the conversation is pension portability. There are those who think it’s been a long time coming and others who don’t want to use state funds for superintendents who have worked across states … who feel that the goal of the state retirement system is to reward longevity, not mobility. We know that this is a very complex issue that affects states, district budgets and individuals — on both sides of the table.

How does one compute the value of their pension? In the most common form of pension for educators, states generally average superintendents’ salaries over a set number of years and factor that by some multiplier — age or number of years of eligible service or a set percentage. In these defined benefit plans (Wikipedia) are the most common type of pension plan in the education sector, the risk is assumed by the employer (that is, the state), and therefore they protect their own interests by making it nontransferable.

However, risk is personally held in defined contribution plans(Wikipedia), like IRAs and 403(b)s. Because these plans are held in the individuals’ hands, they are transferable, though with much regulation.

Hybrid plans (Wikipedia), which do not have much momentum, are a combination of defined benefit and defined contribution, though they hold more similarities to defined benefit plans. Only Ohio has taken the step to making hybrid plans available to certain state employees, including educators.

Educators are not alone in facing this issue, though not all educators are subject to it. That is, university professors — who hold degrees at the same level as most superintendents — have pension mobility through defined contribution plans held outside of the university’s hands, even if employed by state universities.

Indeed, the issue is not new — to you or to AASA. Read "The Perils of Pension Portability" (The School Administrator, February 1999) about the perils of moving out of state with defined contribution plan, and, similarly, "My Perils With Pension Portability" (The School Administrator, December 2001) by consultant (and former superintendent) Laval S. Wilson.

Whether you are for it or against it, AASA wants you to have the information you need. Blueprints: A Guide to Public School Plans 403(b) and 457(b) was designed to help school leaders effectively implement the final IRS 403(b) regulations for public school employee retirement plans.

Related Resources
National Council on Teacher Retirement

School Construction

The 21st Century Green High Performing Public School Facilities Act (HR 3021) was passed on June 5, 2008, by a vote of 250-164. This is a $6.4 billion school-construction program that creates a new federal program to provide states and local school districts with money to build and modernize schools.


The 65 Percent Campaign

The 65 percent campaign is taking place in states to force school districts to spend 65 percent of budget on instruction. While administrators share the goal of improving instruction, this focus on an arbitrary number is based on a hazy definition of “instruction” and is misguided.

Tools for AASA Members

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Urban Education

Approximately 24,000 schools in nearly 2,000 districts can be considered urban and these schools frequently face challenges in leadership, poverty and funding.

AASA is continuing to reach out to and provide resources for urban school leaders.

In the fall of 2007, AASA started a network for urban school administrators. For more information on how to join this free network, please e-mail Noelle Ellerson.

Tools for Members

  • "The Challenge of Urban Leadership" - Commission reports and think tank studies on the pressures and politics of urban school leadership don’t do justice to the subject. Only when you walk in the shoes of an urban school executive can you truly appreciate what the challenges amount to. (The School Administrator, May 2007)
  • "The Insiders: How Principals and Superintendents See Public Education Today" - (PDF, Reality Check: Public Agenda, 2006)
  • "Preparing Teachers for Students in Poverty" - Understanding the culture of families in poverty is an important aspect of the teacher induction program in the Nashville, Tenn., schools. New teachers learn strategies for supporting poor children, and the district is starting to see some results. Also: Ruby Payne’s framework for understanding poverty; Additional resources. (The School Administrator, December 2005)
  • "Student Stability vs. Mobility" - The superintendent in Fort Wayne, Ind., describes his school system's efforts to minimize the impact of constant change in students' family lives on academic outcomes. (The School Administrator, August 2001)

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Privatization and vouchers have been floated by opponents of public education since the writings of Milton Friedman tried to apply economic theories of competition to the public good that is schooling. Most recent vouchers have been defeated at the public polls, but state legislatures and the Supreme Court have been more favorable. AASA provides the following resources to inform and aid superintendents in opposition of vouchers.

Tools for Members

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