Half a dozen big-name education organizations are making sure members of Congress working to update the No Child Left Behind Act are crystal clear: The new version of the law should keep yearly tests in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.
On Friday, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Business Roundtable, the Education Trust, the National Council of La Raza, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools sent a letter to leaders of the Senate education committee to “go on the record” about their opposition to eliminating the testing requirement.
“We are deeply concerned with the idea of ending the current system of annual reading and mathematics assessments,” the groups wrote to Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chairman and ranking member of the committee, who are in the process of drafting a reauthorization of the NCLB law.
The biggest policy debate emerging in the reauthorization process is whether or not to preserve the law’s annual testing requirements and how those tests should play into a re-imagined accountability system.
“These assessments are the cornerstone of maintaining accountability for results throughout the K-12 education system, particularly for disadvantaged children who need help the most,” the groups wrote.
Annual assessments, the letter emphasized, are necessary to provide timely information on student achievement growth for parents, educators, the business community and the public. And importantly, the annual tests provide a vital measure of accountability for the $25 billion in taxpayer funding that is doled out to states through the underlying law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The letter conceded that there is “valid cause for concern” about over-testing.
Some recent reports have found that students are being tested hundreds of times during their elementary and secondary school years. However, most data suggests that states and local districts are responsible for the testing overkill, not the feds. A new report from Ohio’s Department of Education, for example, found that federal tests only account for 32 percent of overall testing requirements.
“We strongly support recent efforts of states and localities to take a much closer look at the number and duration of tests in order to eliminate unnecessary and duplicative assessments,” the groups wrote. “However, accountability for results demands assessing progress, at least on an annual basis, in a manner that provides useful comparable data for teachers, principals, administrators, parents and the public - and it ensures action when students are lagging behind.”
The letter explicitly notes that testing isn’t the only issue that will determine whether or not they ultimately support a final reauthorization bill, but since it’s the biggest policy debate of the moment, the groups “wanted to go on the record jointly now, so you were completely aware of our views.”