Here is Mercedes Schneider’s fourth installment in her monumental task of reading and analyzing the 600+ pages of the bipartisan Senate bill to reauthorize NCLB.

 

She writes:

 

 

As was true of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Alexander-Murray reauthorization is an assessment-centered document. A principal difference between this draft and NCLB is in the role of the federal government, with the federal role being much more prescriptive (and punitive) in NCLB. The Alexander-Murray draft mandates assessments; however, the particulars it leaves up to states without the punitive outcomes of NCLB.

 

Thus, state selection of assessments is critical. What a state chooses as its assessments largely determines the focus for the rest of the Alexander-Murray programs and “competitions.”

 

The “competitions” in the Alexander-Murray draft are optional to states; nevertheless, when coupled with a state’s choice of assessments (which could be assessments specific to the “competition”), state involvement in many of these “competitions” could mimic the oppression of NCLB or even US secretary of education Arne Duncan’s NCLB “waivers.”

 

A state could go the way of NCLB oppression. Or it could not.

 

It all depends upon the preferences of a state’s governor, or legislature, or board of education, or superintendent.

 

The Alexander-Murray reauthorization leaves room for states to implement assessment systems that require a lot less classroom time lost to testing, for example, or to even further downplay the importance of standardized tests by also incorporating projects and portfolios in the assessment process. However, the important piece here is that the states must be willing to pursue these avenues and include them as the official assessments selected for inclusion in the state ESEA application.

 

The state-level choice of assessments is critical in determining the degree to which education in that state will continue to be “NCLB-like” or even “Common Core-PARCC-SBAC-like.” Beyond that, the state’s choice of Alexander-Murray “competitions” can set the same NCLB/CCSS “stage.”

 

The mandate of annual assessment aside, under the Alexander-Murray draft, the state is the principal decision maker and therefore the primary entity for determining the degree of pressure brought upon public education by both the assessments it chooses and the ESEA “competitions” in which it participates for ESEA-related funding.

 

The state is even able to change its standards and assessments after receiving ESEA money by submitting the changes for re-evaluation by the US secretary– who does not have the authority to mandate a particular set of standards or particular assessments. According to the language of the Alexander-Murray draft, there is no rigid, seven-year lock-in to state standards and assessments. That noted, it would be best for a state to be certain about its choice of assessments at the outset of the application process for the proposed Alexander-Murray reauthorization.

 

Stay tuned. She will slog through this leviathan to the very end and inform us all.