It has been a fact of educational life for so long, that we don't take the question out and ask it much any more, but really--
Why is there a federal requirement to give students a standardized test?
Why has that provision, that requirement, that burden been given the weight of federal regulation? Even as ESSA tore down and ripped up many pieces of federal oversight and regulation, that provision was never in doubt. At best, for a while, there was hope that the testing requirement would be reduced, but nobody ever thought that the federal requirement to make schools give students a standardized test would go away. And it didn't.
But why? Why does the federal government believe that an important national interest is served by testing every American school student, year after year?
There's no federal requirement that every automobile be inspected year after year. There's no federal requirement to even register firearms, let alone make sure they're still working properly. Federal requirements for food are loose and getting looser, with the FDA limited in how much inspecting they can get done and what they can do about the results. There's no annual federal testing requirement for soldiers and armaments, no federal requirement for annual testing of road surfaces, no federal requirement for annual testing of judges or legislators-- you get the idea. There's a big long list of things that are important for the welfare and safety of the country, a long list of things that taxpayers spend big money on, and yet do not operate under a federal demand for constant testing.
On top of that, once the federally required tests have been given-- what will the feds do with the results?
The official answer under ESSA is "Nothing." The feds don't get to draw pass-fail lines, nor do they get to proscribe the consequences for schools on the fail side of the line. There's enough leeway in how states can handle their testing that it won't be possible to make a legit comparison between states. And the NAEP (America's Report Card) will still be a thing, anyway. So why do the feds need to require that Big Standardized Tests be given to every student in every year for every grade 3-8.
What federal interest is served by requiring these tests? Do they make us safer? Smarter? If we want to require that each state monitors its school system to make sure that nobody is falling through the cracks or being deprived of an education, then why not require that the states do that-- why require the mechanism of a very narrow BS Test?
I know the unofficial reasons. Pearson et al are making a buttload of money from testing, and they'd prefer not to stop. The government will continue to collect giant heaping mountains of data from testing which will help keep the dream of a cradle to career pipeline alive. And a whole bunch of people believe that tests are magical devices that somehow make education work, and that without a federally required test, education would collapse into anarchy with teachers napping and students mired in ignorance, knickerbockers rolled down below their knees, dogs and cats living together, and the country conquered by Estonia.
But seriously. We became one of the most powerful and successful nations on earth without federally mandated BS Tests. We instituted federally mandated BS Tests in order to achieve certain swell goals, and we achieved none of them. Now we don't even have federal aspirations to accomplish certain goals attached to the BS Tests, and yet the tests are still here, enshrined in law, like a federal appendix that can't do anything except maybe swell and burst and spread poison throughout the body. Federally mandated tests are the education equivalent of the Bridge To Nowhere.
"Well, it's the law now, so we have to live with it," is what many school administrators will say. And that 95% requirement may give some states pause. But they don't have to live with federally mandated BS Testing. And you know who really really doesn't have to live with it?
Prohibition died as law because people just ignored it. Citizens wouldn't follow the law, and states wouldn't enforce it.