To the Editor:
Doing the right thing and making tough decisions aren’t easy. Politics, limited resources, and competing priorities make standing up for individuals or groups who don’t have a loud or powerful constituency almost impossible.
This has never been clearer than in the current debate unfolding in the just-convened 114th Congress around reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Education Week recently reported that the new Republican Senate leadership is willing to weaken and potentially abandon protections for America’s low-income children, children of color, and students with special needs.
We cannot let Congress undermine decades of investment by the federal government and states that has driven significant progress.
When it comes to trusting states and local agencies to ensure accountability and equity, our nation has a woeful history of maintaining segregation, hiding and ignoring achievement gaps, underfunding schools, and neglecting students with disabilities and those who are English-language learners. With a meaningful federal presence and oversight in the past two decades, each of these has been at least partially addressed.
Even under the current ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act, without federal pressure to keep standards high, states have shown a willingness to set the bar low, undercutting efforts to give families a true sense of how prepared all of our children are for college and careers.
NCLB is not perfect, and overtesting is a legitimate problem today. We should test only as much as needed to inform instruction and hold ourselves accountable. But reducing annual testing to just a few grades or a sample of kids is a shameful attempt to avoid responsibility for educating children at risk.
As the conversation heats up, and the prospect of a new bill gets closer to reality, I worry that people forget that ignorance is not bliss; it comes with a steep price, especially for our most vulnerable kids.
Director of Policy
The writer headed the U.S. Department of Education’s implementation and support unit from 2011 to 2014 and served as a special assistant to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan from 2009 until 2011.
A version of this article appeared in the January 14, 2015 edition of Education Week as Reducing Annual Testing Would Hurt At-Risk Students