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Rep. John Kline: Annual, Statewide Tests Give Parents, School Boards Transparency

By Alyson Klein — January 28, 2015 2 min read
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U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education committee, said last week that he favors keeping annual assessments in a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act—but he left out a crucial word: “statewide.” That left open the possibility that Kline might be OK with a mix of state and local assessments, as long as they’re given on a yearly basis.

But, in a quick interview Wednesday he clarified that, nope, he meant that all kids in a state should take the same, annual assessment in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, just as they do under current law.

He stressed that keeping NCLB’s testing regime intact—while getting rid of the punitive sanctions in NCLB that nearly everyone hates—is necessary to provide transparency, both for parents and local school boards.

That’s an argument echoed by some folks in the school choice community, especially advocates for charter schools.

Kline said he hadn’t yet taken a close look at a proposal that some folks see as a potential middle ground between holding firm on NCLB’s testing regime and ditching it altogether: a plan by the Council of Chief State School Officers that would keep annual statewide tests in place, but allow districts to propose new testing regimes and strategies through pilot projects, as long as they have the approval of their states, and the U.S. Department of Education.

But it doesn’t sound like a local option is Kline’s first choice.

“My preference is annual statewide tests,” he said. He outlined an argument for statewide measurements, which some experts argue are more accurate and comparable than local measures. “You can have a report card that’s very important for the kid, and the student could be making A’s but still be totally unprepared [for the future] because the school is not very good.”

Of course, it’s worth noting that Kline has been willing to make compromises in the past order to get a deal on a broader legislation that he thinks generally moves K-12 policy in the right direction.

The most prominent example: Back in 2013, he ultimately supported a push to scrap a requirement for teacher evaluation through student outcomes from another NCLB rewrite bill—a policy he was personally invested in—in order to gain support for the legislation from House conservatives, who didn’t think the federal government should be interfering with educator performance reviews.

In this year’s debate over rewriting the NCLB law, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, put the testing question squarely on the table by offering lawmakers two different options on assessments to mull over in a draft bill introduced earlier this month. (Cheat sheet here.)

One option would allow states to do pretty much whatever they want on testing. The other option is somewhat similar to CCSSO’s proposal. It would keep the NCLB’s law’s testing regime in place, but let districts try out other approaches in lieu of the state assessment system, as long as their states (but not the feds) give the okay.

It’s possible, however, that Alexander, who has been saying he’s still undecided on the testing question, may be coming around to something like Kline’s point of view: Keep the testing schedule, but turn accountability back to the states. He certainly seemed very sympathetic to that argument in this interview with Time magazine, and during an exchange with Terry Holliday, the commissioner of education in Kentucky, in an NCLB reauthorization hearing focused on teachers.

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