DOE Offers State Grants to Fund Assessment Innovations

Update, April 1: The deadline for States to apply was extended from April 18 to May 3.

The U.S. Department of Education is taking applications for the Competitive Grants for State Assessments (CGSA) program, which will offer millions of dollars to states that want to innovate assessment systems aimed at key student populations.

The program will offer as many as six assessment grants of $1 million to $2 million (the maximum award is $3 million), for projects lasting up to 48 months. The purpose is to enhance the quality of assessment systems used by State Education Agencies (SEAs) for measuring academic achievement of elementary and secondary school students.

For example, states might use the money to develop a statewide assessment in another language, or to develop technology that allows more frequent assessments throughout the year with fewer interruptions to instruction.

“We are encouraging states to look into this opportunity and, if it aligns with their strategic plan, to apply,” said Ashley Eden, New Meridian’s vice president of policy and advocacy. “The pandemic has been devastating to our schools, students, and families. This grant provides an opportunity to ensure assessment systems are reflective of the needs and challenges of today. Assessment grants like this provide resources so states can pursue innovation that best supports students and sets them up for success in college, career, and life.”

The assessment grants are available to state education departments (SEAs) in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, as well as consortia of SEAs. States that are interested must announce their intention to apply by March 18 and the deadline for application is May 3 of this year. Awards will be announced and funds will be awarded in September.

Learn More About the Program and How to Apply

Inside the CGSA Program

The grant program will fund proposals that adhere to priorities set by the U.S. Department of Education. These are divided into two “absolute priorities,” at least one of which must be reflected in every application in order to gain approval.

The first absolute priority is projects that use “multiple measures of student academic achievement from multiple sources.”

The second is “development of comprehensive academic assessment instruments (such as performance and technology-based academic assessments, computer adaptive assessments, projects, or extended performance task assessments) that emphasize the mastery of standards and aligned competencies.”

Applications that improve assessment scoring and score reporting may be given competitive preference. These are projects that “provide better and more timely information to educators and parents,” according to the Department, and must include at least one of the following elements:

  • Better score reporting templates or digital mechanisms to communicate assessment results and their meaning
  • Initiatives to improve assessment literacy for educators and parents, so they can more easily interpret results and use them to support classroom teaching and learning
  • Mechanisms to securely transmit assessment results for individual use by teachers, students, and parents.

Applicants that submit successful proposals will be asked to create a plan to share what they have learned with other states, so their work can serve as a model.

Another Department priority, though not one that will convey preference on applications, is creating systems that “allow educators to use the data from assessments to inform instructional design and classroom practices.”

The Need to Innovate

At New Meridian, we have spent a year studying what next-generation assessments should look like and talking to states about the right approach. We have codified these ideas into a whitepaper: Now is the Time to Reimagine Assessments

But one is perhaps more important than all others: summative testing is important, but it can no longer stand alone. Instead, we need a “classroom-up” approach that provides feedback throughout the year—ongoing and real-time—to guide instruction and support in a continuous cycle of observation and adjustment, all focused on advancing—and accelerating—student learning.

We invite everyone who cares about education—state officials, administrators, teachers, parents and others—to read our whitepaper, check out the CGSA program and engage with us. We’d love to hear your ideas. 

To learn how your state can take advantage of this program, reach out to a New Meridian policy expert.