State officials want new powers to determine how well schools and districts are meeting the ambitious achievement targets set under the No Child Left Behind Act.
In a set of recommendations for reauthorizing the education law, released here this week, the Council of Chief State School Officers said that its members should be able to gain federal approval for innovative assessment and accountability systems that don’t follow the letter of the 5-year-old law.
The federal law should not have a “command-and-control structure” that inhibits state’s powers, said Gene Wilhoit, the executive director of the Washington-based group, which represents state superintendents and commissioners of education.
“We’ve implemented this law, and we want it to work,” Wisconsin Superintendent of Schools Elizabeth Burmaster said at a news conference held to release the group’s NCLB proposals. “The federal law should encourage, not stifle, innovation.”
Such creative solutions would happen, Ms. Burmaster said, if the Department of Education were required to approve waivers that demonstrate that the policies would achieve the law’s basic goal that all students be proficient in reading and mathematics by the 2013-14 school year. The current law says the department may grant waivers at its discretion.
Such a change could mean a state might win approval for an accountability system that doesn’t assess students from the same battery of tests in every year from 3rd to 8th grade and once in high school, as the law now requires. If a state can prove that it can use a combination of different tests to make valid accountability decisions, the law should give the state that flexibility, said Ms. Burmaster, who is the CCSSO’s president.
The proposal would face opposition from influential supporters of the law, who say that annual testing is an important diagnostic tool and it holds schools accountable for all students. Those supporters include Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and the chairmen of the House and Senate education committees.
But the CCSSO’s plan is similar to ideas promoted by other groups representing state officials, including the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the National Association of State Boards of Education.
“Just about every one of the [CCSSO] recommendations dovetails nicely with our position,” said David L. Shreve, the NCSL’s senior committee director for education. “I can only hope this Congress … will actually listen to the state groups who have the biggest stake in running schools in this country.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 07, 2007 edition of Education Week as State Chiefs Offer Their Prescription for Renewing NCLB