Now begins the great wrangle over federal education policy.

Senator Lamar Alexander, the senior Republican in the Senate on the HELP (health, education, labor, and pensions) Committee is at work revising No Child Left Behind. On January 20, he will hold hearings on testing. He is deciding whether to eliminate NCLB’s annual testing mandate and allow states to make their own decisions, to switch to grade-span testing, or to leave the current system in place. The Obama administration is lobbying hard to keep the current system, designed by the second President Bush’s administration, intact. In other words, Secretary Duncan wants to preserve the status quo, over the opposition of parents and educators, and despite the fact that no high-performing nation tests every child every year.

Earlier this week, nearly 20 civil rights groups endorsed the status quo. Valerie Strauss wondered what these civil rights groups were thinking.

She wrote:

“There are important problems with this thinking.

“It presumes that high-stakes standardized testing has led to more equity for students. There is no evidence that it has. It presumes that high-stakes standardized tests are valid and reliable measure of what students know and how much teachers have contributed to student progress, but assessment experts say they aren’t. It presumes that requiring testing is the only way to ensure that minority and disabled students get attention. That’s shallow thinking.”

After 13 years of NCLB, have we learned nothing?

A few days ago, I questioned whether the civil rights groups understood that standardized tests never close achievement gaps: they measure them. The children who have the greatest disadvantages are not served by stsndardized testing; the tests accurately reflect family income. They confer privilege on the privileged.

Most curious to me is that some of the leading civil rights groups issued a statement opposing high-stakes testing in October 2014!

What changed their views between October and January?

At that time, civil rights groups wrote:

““he current educational accountability system has become overly focused on narrow measures of success and, in some cases, has discouraged schools from providing a rich curriculum for all students focused on the 21st century skills they need to acquire. This particularly impacts under-resourced schools that disproportionately serve low-income students and students of color. In our highly inequitable system of education, accountability is not currently designed to ensure students will experience diverse and integrated classrooms with the necessary resources for learning and support for excellent teaching in all schools. It is time to end the advancement of policies and ideas that largely omit the critical supports and services necessary for children and families to access equal educational opportunity in diverse settings and to promote positive educational outcomes.”

They called for “Appropriate and equitable resources that ensure opportunities to learn, respond to students’ needs, prioritize racial diversity and integration of schools, strengthen school system capacity, and meaningfully support improvement.”

Among the needed resources, they said them, are:

“Qualified, certified, competent, racially and culturally diverse and committed teachers, principals, counselors, nurses, librarians, and other school support staff, with appropriate professional development opportunities, including cultural competency training, and support and incentives to work with students of greatest need; and

Social, emotional, nutritional, and health services”

But now they support the Bush-Obama emphasis on test-based accountability, with testing that exempts only 1% of children with the most severe cognitive disabilities and that exempts English learners for only one year.

Very puzzling.