Archives for category: NCLB (No Child Left Behind)

In an interview published in The Hechinger Report, Randi Weingarten expresses her belief that Hillary Clinton will change course from the Obama education policies. She expects that a President Clinton would select a new Secretary of Education, one who shares her expressed belief in strengthening public schools and supporting teachers.

Emmanuel Felton, who conducted the interview, writes:

While teachers unions have long been a key pillar in Democratic Party, they’ve been on the outs with President Barack Obama’s education department. The administration doubled down on Republican President George W. Bush’s educational agenda of holding schools accountable for students’ test scores. Under the administration’s $3 billion School Improvement Grant program, for example, struggling schools had options to implement new accountability systems for teachers, remove staff, be closed or converted into charter schools, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

These policies devastated some local teachers unions, including Philadelphia’s, which lost 10,000 members during the Obama and Bush administrations. Weingarten expects Clinton to totally upend this agenda, and hopes she won’t reappoint Education Secretary John King, who was just confirmed by the senate in March.

From the day he was elected, President Obama decided to maintain the punitive policies of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and made standardized testing even more consequential. He and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pressed for higher standards, tougher accountability, and more choices, especially charter schools. They used Race to the Top to promote the evaluation of teachers by their students’ test scores, a policy that cost hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars, with nothing to show for it.

Let’s all hope that Hillary Clinton, if elected, will recognize the damage done by the Bush-Obama education agenda and push the “reset” button for a federal policy that helps children, educators, and public schools.

To my amazement and disgust, Democrats in the Senate and the House is that they have become forceful defenders of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind-style legacy of punitive accountability. They love testing and accountability, which was always the GOP agenda.

During the debate about the reauthorization of NCLB, which produced the Every Student Succeeds Act, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut proposed an amendment that would have preserved the punitive AYP accountability of NCLB. Almost every Democratic senator supported the Murphy amendment, even Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren. See here and here. The only Democrats to vote against the Murphy amendment were Senator Tester of Montana and Senator Shaheen of New Hampshire.

Yesterday, POLITICO reported that Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington State and Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia commended Secretary of Education John King for his efforts to insert sharp teeth into ESSA, doing an end run around the Republicans’ decision to eliminate the worst features of NCLB.

“- Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott teamed up for their public comments. In a letter to Education Secretary John B. King Jr., they applaud a number of provisions, like the requirement that states come up with concrete evaluations or scores for schools. They also support the requirement that states test 95 percent of students annually, and include that participation rate in their accountability systems. But the lawmakers want to see changes and tweaks to a number of items, including the timeline for states to get their new accountability systems up and running, transportation for students in foster care, calculating graduation rates, “n-sizes,” resource equity and more. The department should change the definition of “consistently underperforming” when it comes to student subgroups, they write. Student subgroups should be identified for consistent underperformance based on all indicators in a state’s accountability system – not just a select few – and whether or not student subgroups are hitting interim and long-term goals set by the state, the letter states. Read the letter: http://politico.pro/2aHrmIZ.”

Recall that the idea of giving schools a “concrete” score of A-F came from Jeb Bush and won the approval of many Red State governors. Murray and Scott also support King’s effort to suppress and punish schools and districts with opt out rates that exceed 5%. This is astonishing. In the last round of testing in New York, the overwhelming majority of districts had opt out rates that exceeded 5%.

Murray is the senior senator in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Scott is the senior Democrat in the House Education Committee.

Question: Why are they defending George W. Bush’s legacy?

Mercedes Schneider writes here about the way that New York parents threaten to bring down John King’s desire to crush the opt out movement. 22% of the state’s eligible children didn’t take the tests. Should the school be punished for the actions and decisions of parents. As long as New York’s well-organized opt out movement keeps going, ESSA is unenforceable.

Joseph Ricciotti, veteran educator in Connecticut, wonders if Hillary Clinton will forge a different path from that of the Obama administration. He points out that Race to the Top and Common Core were both major disasters. Race to the Top was built on the assumptions of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, and proved even more harmful to public education and to children.

He notes that she benefited in her campaign by the early endorsements of the two teachers’ unions, the NEA and AFT.

He writes:

She can be thankful in no small part to the major role that the teacher organizations in the nation such as the National Educational Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) played in their early endorsement of her presidency. Public school teachers and parents are fighting the battle of their lives in attempting to hold off the forces of privatization along with the onslaught of charter schools in the nation.


Sadly, theses forces of privatization received major support from Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education appointed by President Barack Obama. No other Education Secretary, especially Democratic, has done more to privatize and weaken public education than Arne Duncan who was also obsessed with standardized testing. Under his regime, public schools across the nation experienced two failed programs with Race to the Top (RTTT) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). His so-called “testocracy” grossly neglected the impact of childhood poverty on learning for children from impoverished homes.

Likewise, under Duncan’s time in office, we have witnessed the demise of the neighborhood school and the growth of charter schools, all with corporate sponsors. Hence, it was obvious that former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was not a public school advocate but rather a paid shill who was in the pockets of the corporate reformers and the testing industry.

If Clinton is elected as president in 2016, it will not take very long for both the NEA and the AFT to know whether their early presidential endorsement has been wasted, as was the case following Barack Obama’s nomination eight years ago in his selection of Duncan as Secretary of Education. Whether Clinton chooses someone to serve as Secretary of Education who will undo the disastrous harm that Duncan has inflicted on public education in his eight years remains to be seen. Will she choose another corporate reformer or will she surprise everyone with an appointment of someone who will be a true advocate of public education and who is widely respected by the supporters of public education in the nation?

I can’t bring myself to tell you whom he recommends to lead the Department of Education.

Valerie Strauss conducted a written Q&A exchange with me over the weekend.

She asked good questions. She wanted to know what I had changed in the revision of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

She asked me what I would say to President Obama if I had the chance to sit down with him.

She asked what I thought Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would do.

I thought it was a good opportunity to sum up what is happening right now.

As an aside, readers of this blog might be interested to note that our old friend Virginia SGP comments and claims that he was “censored” on my blog. Happily, a reader of this blog pointed out that he was limited to only four comments a day, which is not censorship. If I posted everything he sent in, he would have had 10-12 comments a day. And then there was the problem that he often used his space to slam and slander people he disagreed with. Not me, but others. He has left us, sadly. I no longer have to read a dozen comments of his daily and decide which to post.

This is a very interesting interview with Senator Lamar Alexander, which appears in Education Week.

Alexander was the architect or ringmaster in crafting the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Alexander explains how he created a bipartisan coalition to draft the law. The Education Department, he says, was left out in the cold. He doesn’t like “federal outreach” or a “national school board.” He was critical of the Education Department (and Duncan) for not recognizing any restraints on the federal role.

He noted that the subject he heard the most about was testing and over-testing. The Network for Public Education was one of many grassroots groups that urged Congress to abandon annual testing and switch to “grade-span” testing instead (e.g., 4, 8, and 12). There was considerable public opposition to annual testing, imposed by federal law. But in the end, Democrats insisted that annual testing had to remain, because of pressure from civil rights organizations. To get the bill passed, he acquiesced to the Democrats’ insistence on annual testing and “subgroup accountability.” To this day, it remains hard to understand why civil rights organizations wanted annual standardized testing, because in the past, the same organizations had filed lawsuits against standardized testing.

Ironically, it was Senate Democrats (including Senators Warren and Sanders) who ended up protecting George W. Bush’s NCLB legacy in the new law. Almost every Democrat in the Senate voted for the Murphy Amendment, which would have retained NCLB accountability and punishments. Fortunately, the amendment did not pass.

Senator Alexander is watching the Education Department closely now, because he fears that it is drafting regulations intended to subvert the intent of Congress.

Here is a small part of the Q&A:


How do you square the law’s crackdown on secretarial authority with its accountability focus?

“I didn’t trust the department to follow the law. … Since the consensus for this bill was pretty simple—we’ll keep the tests, but we’ll give states flexibility on the accountability system—I wanted several very specific provisions in there that [limited secretarial authority]. That shouldn’t be necessary, and it’s an extraordinary thing to do. But for example, on Common Core, probably a half a dozen times, [ESSA says] .. you can not make a state adopt the Common Core standards. And I’m sure that if we hadn’t put that in there, they’d try to do it.”

Alexander said that when he was education secretary during President George H.W. Bush’s administration Congress created the direct lending program, allowing students to take out college loans straight from the U.S. Treasury. Alexander didn’t like that program, but he implemented it anyway.

“Contrast that with the attitude of this secretary and this department,” Alexander said. Exhibit A: supplement-not-supplant.”That’s total and complete disrespect for the Congress, and if I was a governor I would follow the law, not the regulation.”

Do you think that there’s anything you possibly could have done in crafting this bill to prevent current controversy over supplement-not-supplant?

“I guess we could abolish the Department of Education. … I’m convinced that the law is the most significant devolution of power to the states in a quarter century, certainly on education.”

What’s your take on the accountability regulations?

Alexander declined to talk about the Education Department’s proposal, released late last month. “At the request of the White House I’m holding my powder on this until I have a chance to read and digest it.”

But it’s clear he’s pretty fired up about the supplement-not-supplant regulation, which deals with how federal dollars interact with state and local education spending. Congress, he said, produced a bill that could give school districts certainty on education for years. “Now the department is trying to rewrite what the Congress did and throw the whole issue into political wrangling,” he said. “They have no authority to do that.”

The change to the way teacher’s salaries are calculated that the department is pursuing through its proposed supplement not supplant regulation was already floated in a bill by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., which failed to gain support, Alexander noted.

“Under this department’s theory of regulatory authority, you can apparently do anything,” Alexander said. “Governors across the country will fight and resist, and I think it’s a shame because we had ended a period of uncertainty, there were hosannas issuing forth from classrooms everywhere, and this one little department is about to upset that.”

Larry Cuban writes on his blog about the most important inventions that have raised our nation’s standard of living. He poses the question that is the title of this post. He supposes that most people would respond “the smartphone,” but they would be wrong. His post is an intriguing review of a book by economic historian Robert Gordon, who contends that the century from 1870-1970 experienced greater growth and innovation than the past half century.

Cuban summarizes Gordon’s central argument:

Thus, an unheralded, stunning century of innovation and economic growth produced the telegraph, phone, television, house lighting, automobile, airplane travel, and, yes, indoor plumbing. These inventions networked the home and workplace in ways that raised living standards and increased workplace productivity considerably. It was in that same century that medical advances reduced infant mortality and lengthened life of Americans dramatically.

The half-century since 1970 has surely seen innovations that have enhanced these earlier inventions but the template for economic growth was laid down for that fruitful hundred-year period. In past decades, new technologies have clearly expanded communication and entertainment, making life far more instantaneous, convenient and pleasurable. But social media, immediate communication, and constant access to photos, video clips, and films have not increased the standard of living as had the decades between 1870-1970.

Cuban then segues to a discussion of the current reform movement in education, which traces its roots to the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk.” That report was “driven by an economic rationale–the human capital argument–for improving U.S. schools” and embraced by policymakers, business leaders, and foundations. If we didn’t improve education dramatically, we would lose our competitive edge in the world economy. And thus was born the “reform movement,” in which governors and “reformers” sought to raise curriculum and performance standards for both students and teachers, increase testing, and create accountability frameworks that included rewards and penalties in subsequent decades….

The current reforms in education and the pressure to raise test scores on international tests have not increased economic growth, stimulated productivity, or reduced inequality, writes Cuban.

In other words, reforms aimed at getting U.S. students to perform better on international tests for the past three decades–think No Child Left Behind, expanded parental choice in schools, more computers in schools, and Common Core state standards–was of little influence on growing a strong economy, raising median income, or lessening inequality, according to Gordon. These reforms, while aiding low-income minorities in many instances, overall, contributed little to improving productivity or raising standards of living

Gordon’s book concludes, writes Cuban, with a list of ten interventions that could raise the standard of living, like raising the minimum wage. Of his ten interventions three have to do with education. They are:

“…investing in preschools, state and federal school financing rather than local taxes, and reducing student indebtedness in higher education. Not a word about the dominant school reforms in 2016–Common Core standards, standardized testing, technologies in schools, charter schools, accountability.

In questioning the dominant beliefs in current school reform as essential to economic growth, Gordon’s argument and evidence are useful to those politically active decision-makers, teachers, parents, and researchers who know that a democracy needs schools that do more than prepare children and youth for the workplace.

The paradox, as Cuban suggests, is that the more we focus on test scores and workplace readiness, the more we sacrifice civic values that may be of greater importance in a democracy.

It was difficult for Congress to agree on a replacement for the failed No Child Left Behind. NCLB was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007, but it took eight long years to finally reach a bipartisan agreement.

 

The good part about the Every Child Succeeds Act is that it spells the end of federal punishment for schools, principals, and teachers whose students have low test scores, and it restricts the ability of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to dictate how schools should reform. There is no more AYP (adequate yearly progress); there is no more deadline of 2014 by which time every student everywhere will be proficient, which was always a hoax that no one believed in.

 

The bad part about ESSA is that it preserves the mindset of NCLB, a mindset that says that standards, testing and accountability are the keys to student success. They are not. NCLB proved they are not. Since “A Nation at Risk” in 1983, policymakers have been in love with the idea that this combination will cause a dramatic rise in test scores and close the achievement gap among different groups. It has done neither, yet ESSA continues the fable.

 

At the outset of the Senate deliberations, Senator Lamar Alexander offered a choice between annual testing, as in NCLB, and grade-span testing (e.g., grades 4, 8, 12). A group of civil rights organizations issued a statement saying that annual testing guaranteed the civil rights of disadvantaged minorities. This sealed the deal; most other organizations and the Democratic majority fell in line behind the civil rights groups. In my view, annual testing does nothing to advance civil rights; to the contrary, it labels children based on test scores and disproportionately and adversely harms children of color and children with disabilities and English language learners. These groups should have been fighting for measures other than standardized tests, but they did not.

 

And so the children of American remain saddled with annual testing, and states remain saddled with the enormous expense of annual testing.

 

My view: The federal government should not dictate any testing. The decision to test or not should be left to every state. Contrary to the belief promoted by ex-Secretary Duncan, NAEP testing gives us all the information we need based on sampling about performance in math and reading, by race, language, gender, poverty status, disability status, and also achievement gaps. Annual tests of every child are a waste of instructional time and money. They provide no useful information.

 

I am disappointed, though not surprised, that the law encourages more privatization of public schools by promoting the funding and expansion of privately managed charter schools. More genuine and beloved community public schools will be replaced by corporate McSchools. The new federal money plus Walton’s new $1 billion commitment, plus Eli Broad’s charter zealotry, will spur the continuing destruction of public education, especially in urban districts, but their ambition is to go beyond the big cities and into the suburbs, the exurbs, and even rural areas.

 

I am disappointed that the new law encourages phony “graduate” schools of education, like Relay and Match, which have no scholars, no research, nothing but charter teachers teaching charter teachers how to raise test scores. This will not improve education. It will simply expand the supply of charter school enforcers who have learned to “teach like a robot.”

 

 

I am disappointed that there are strict limits on the number of children with disabilities who can be exempted from regular state testing and given accommodations. This seems to me to be a decision that should be made at the school level, not by the federal government.

 

I am disappointed that the law does not permit parents to opt out of state testing. As a law written by a dominantly Republican Congress, it is surprising that it does not recognize parental rights. Furthermore, a Congress that favors choice of schools should also favor the parents’ choice to say no to testing that they believe is useless and unnecessary for their child’s education.

 

I would have written a different law.

 

I would have removed testing and accountability altogether from the law and left that to the states. Why should Congress decide how often children should be tested? What is their authority for making this decision? What knowledge do they have? If states want to know how they are doing, they can review their NAEP scores.

 

I would have strengthened the enforcement of civil rights and student privacy within the law.

 

I would have established standards for charter schools, so that they disclose their finances fully and accept students that are similar to those in the community they serve. I would have prohibited for-profit charter schools and for-profit virtual charter schools.

 

I would have increased funding for special education.

 

I would have encouraged teacher education programs to raise their standards for entry, but not by relying on standardized tests (they might look, for example, at grade-point average and essays about why the candidate wants to teach. I would have encouraged the professionalism of teachers by requiring certification in the subjects taught, as well as at least a year of student teaching, so that states were not able to drop their standards for teachers. I would have required certification for district superintendents and state superintendents.

 

I would have funded and required school nurses, psychologists, librarians, guidance counselors, and social workers in every Title I school. I would have expanded funding specifically for reduced class sizes in Title I schools. I would have required an arts program staffed with certified arts teachers in every school.

 

But instead, we are saddled with standards, testing, and accountability.

 

The good thing that the law does is to shift the issues to the state level (except when it doesn’t). That means that citizens have some chance to get a better perspective on education by voting out those legislators who are currently crippling public education in their states.

 

The outlook is that, as a result of ESSA, the states in a downward spiral–like Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, Kansas, and many more–will continue in that direction until there is a rebellion among the citizenry. ESSA gives people a chance to take action. But that’s about all it does. I’m grateful that AYP is gone; I am grateful that the timetable is gone; I am grateful that the Secretary of Education can no longer boss everyone around. I am glad that Race to the Top is gone. Otherwise, it is NCLB handed over to the states to tinker with.

 

After 15 years of nonstop testing and accountability, we need a new vision. ESSA is not it.

 

 

John Thompson, historians and teachers, assesses a discussion about the role of scholars in the current era of tumult in education.

He writes:

Education Week published essays by four scholars, Jeffrey Henig, Jay Greene, Jeannie Oakes, and Rick Hess, on the role of academic researchers in school improvement. While I respect all four contributors, and with the key points of the four commentaries, I found a part of Henig’s message http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/13/the-responsibility-of-edu-scholars-in-the-public.html to be unsettling, so I will get my concerns out of the way before embracing the thrust of their arguments.

Being an academic turned inner city teacher, I know the joy that can come from bringing advanced scholarship into public education. I’m not surprised by Henig’s explanation why academics would be leery of edu-politics, however, especially during this era of bitter reform wars. He writes, “Younger scholars worried that those with opposing views would wreak revenge on them.” Moreover, Henig reports:
Seasoned and secure scholars worried about being drawn into making more simplistic and extreme statements than they felt comfortable with, believing that necessary to be heard above the noisy background of claim and counterclaim. As one researcher put it to me, “Once somebody else brings a knife to the fight, you have to bring a knife to the fight, too.”

Henig correctly complains that public discourse about education has become partisan and ideological. But, I wonder what exactly does he mean when charging that the debate has become “simplistic” and “simple-minded.” And, I was downright offended by his call for “at least some reasonable voices to be heard—voices that distill and accurately reflect what research has to say.” (emphasis mine) Speaking only for our side of the reform wars, teachers and unions are not just (belatedly) bringing a metaphorical knife to the fight that was imposed on us. Our spokespersons include some of the nation’s greatest education experts and social scientists.

Although I object to the ideology of the contemporary reform movement, scholars who embrace it are very skilled in their fields (such as economic theory and data modeling) and reasonable. The ones who I have communicated with merely don’t know what they don’t know about actual schools and systems. Had they seriously contemplated the social science of the Johns Hopkins Everyone Graduates Center and the Consortium for Chicago School Research, the historical wisdom of Diane Ravitch and Larry Cuban, and the practical implementation insights of Jack Jennings and John Merrow, I can’t believe that many would have gone down the test, sort, reward, and punish path to school improvement.

In the 25 years since leaving academics for the inner city, I have repeatedly seen situations in schools and policy-making that are downright surrealistic, as well as tragic. To be blunt, scholars who do not visit with teachers and students may not have the background to determine whether an argument is simplistic or simple-minded, or whether it is an accurate identification of policies, imposed by non-educators, that are “simplistic and extreme.”
In my experience conversing with pro-reform academics dismayed by the pushback against their policies by practitioners and patrons, the issue of Common Core usually comes up. Even after we teachers had seen students denied high school diplomas because they could not pass college readiness exit exams, I would hear the claims by some who still believed that Common Core only applied to math and English. Later, policy people protested that very few 3rd graders have been denied promotion due to Common Core tests. In doing so, they ignore the obvious reality that it was the Opt Out movement and the grassroots anti-“reform” counter-attack that prevented the full implementation of Common Core high stakes tests that would have been disastrous.

So, I’d add a concrete point to Henig’s commentary. An academic who wants to help improve schools should at least see how well he fares on a Common Core GED high school equivalency math test before assuming that our positions are simplistic.

Next, Jay Greene http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/13/truth-telling-is-academias-privilege-and-obligation.html warns against engaging in “delicate ‘messaging’ [that] will produce a desired outcome or please a powerful patron.”

He bluntly but accurately writes:

Researchers involved in the Gates Foundation’s “Measures of Effective Teaching” study from 2009 claimed the study found that teachers are best evaluated using a formula that combines multiple measures when the research actually found no such thing.
Greene links to specific misstatements issued by the Gates Foundation, but I would make a more general point. The MET methodology would have been beneficial if the Gates Foundation had acknowledged what it was actually conducting – theoretical research. It was hopelessly inappropriate for policy research.

I still find it hard to believe that academics would bring no more than regression models to a real-world fight against the legacies of poverty and discrimination. Why would they assume that statistical models could capture the complexities of urban education?

Then, Jeannie Oakes http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/13/public-engagement-is-essential-to-scholarship.html and Rick Hess http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/13/the-responsibility-of-edu-scholars-in-the-public.html offer solid advice to scholars. Oakes cites John Dewey in urging academics to embrace “the ‘hurly burly’ of social policymaking.” She explains that, “Education policymaking must negotiate strongly held public perceptions and contested political terrain—factors usually far more influential than research findings.” Oakes then encourages public scholars to “nurture trusting and respectful relationships with policymakers and public actors. These are not one-way relationships, but reflexive.”
Rick Hess adds that there are multiple “right way(s) to think about education.” Hess affirms that, “Parents, students, community leaders, journalists, and more all have their own legitimate, valuable perspectives.” He notes, “This robust pluralism is the very foundation of the American project.”
Hess is correct that “scholars have an important role to play in that democratic cacophony, though far too few play it enthusiastically or well.” Moreover, “public debates and decisions benefit when all of our talents are brought to the table.” Academics must “connect with and learn from their fellow citizens.”

I would add that academics need to learn from each other when they engage in policy research. For the life of me, I can’t understand why so much faith was placed in regression models, and how scholars seemed to believe they could advance policy studies without thrashing out old-fashioned falsifiable hypotheses. Had quantitative and qualitative researchers joined the same table to draft hypotheses, and ask what results would be necessary to support their assumptions and put their findings into a sound narrative, we all would have benefitted. Such conversations would have identified the nuances of education issues and prompted academics to talk with other stakeholders in the ways that are proposed by the four scholars.

Sandra Stotsky was deeply involved in the transformation of public education in Massachusetts from 1999-2003. As senior associate commissioner of education, she oversaw the development and implementation of curriculum frameworks and testing of entry-level teachers. Massachusetts rose to the top of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. As she explains here, the Bay State did not have annual testing.

She writes:

“K-12 schools have coped with an abundance of mandated testing since the early 1990s. Worse yet, under federal guidelines, the consequences of poor student performance have in the name of accountability come to fall more on teachers than students. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) expanded the educational-level testing mandated in the 1994 authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), mandating annual testing for reading and mathematics in grades 3-8, once in high school, and at several grade levels in science.

“The 2015 re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), called ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), continued NCLB’s annual testing mandate. It did so in large part because of strong support from education researchers (e.g., Whitehurst, West, Chingos, Dynarski, among others, in Education Next). Yet, none provided evidence that annual testing via ESEA had significantly increased the achievement of low-income students in K-12 in both subjects. They couldn’t because there is none. Nevertheless, even though the national needle had not moved in reading at any National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)-tested grade in 50 years, ESSA punished the states with a continuation of annual testing and test-based accountability.

“A big question is why education researchers don’t look at what Massachusetts did and did not do to increase low-income student achievement. Remember, its average scores in both reading and mathematics, for grade 4 and grade 8, on NAEP tests in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015 were the highest or among the highest of all 50 states. On the one international test of curriculum-based achievement (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study—TIMSS), the state, entered as a separate country, tied with Singapore for first place in grade 8 science and was among the top six countries in mathematics in grades 4 and 8 in both 2007 and 2013. Surely, there should have been a long look at what the Bay State did, beyond its testing schedule.

“This is the testing that was done: From 1998 to 2000, testing took place in four major subjects (math, science, reading, and history) annually in grades 4, 8, and 10, or at one grade per educational level as mandated by the state’s 1993 Education Reform Act. After 2000, testing in math and reading took place annually but only at every other grade level (grade span testing) and at one grade per educational level annually in science and history until 2006, when NCLB’s annual requirements kicked in for math and reading because the tests were now ready for previously untested grades. The state’s high math and reading scores beginning in 2005 cannot be accounted for by annual testing. Nor can the state’s stunning performance in grade 8 science in 2007 or 2013.

“As the person in charge of the total revision or development of all the state’s K-12 standards, teacher and administrator licensing regulations, most teacher licensure tests, as well as criteria for professional development from 1999-2003, I have some basis for suggesting what I think likely contributed to students’ enduring academic gains in the past decade even if education researchers do not seem to want to learn what the Bay State did.

“Under my direction, the state department of education revised major documents to increase the content knowledge requirements in standards for all students, and to strengthen academically the licensure requirements for the state’s teacher and administrator corps. The results of high quality research were clear; teachers’ knowledge of the subject they teach is the only trait associated with enhanced gains in student achievement. The documents we developed during the years I was a public bureaucrat, including definitions of terms used, embedded policies approved by the field (via frequent public comment), the Commissioner of Education David Driscoll, and the Board of Education under James Peyser, chair.

“Annual testing at every grade level in math, reading, and science was not one of them. Nor was it apparently necessary for higher and enduring academic achievement in these subjects, even though ESSA froze it in for reading and math. Nor can the case be made today that annual testing improves low-income student achievement. It’s possible it may even retard achievement. We don’t know because the idea has not been explored by education researchers. Why civil rights organizations or the Gates Foundation support a policy that exists in no other country needs explanation.”

FairTest has posted a list of recommendations for next steps in the fight against the misuse and overuse of standardized tests.

 

The long-awaited demise of the despised and failed No Child Left Behind is gladdening, but it doesn’t end the fight against the misuse of high-stakes tests. Some states may decide to continue NCLB-ing their students and teachers because bad habits are hard to break.

 

FairTest recommends:

 

Congress will likely soon pass and President Obama sign the “Every Student Achieves Act” (ESSA). This bill is the latest version of the long-standing Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replaces the universally despised “No Child Left Behind.” The new law presents both opportunities and dangers for the testing resistance and reform movement.

 

How can the movement use the opportunities, counter the risks, and win greater assessment reform victories? The first task is to continue to build resistance to high-stakes standardized exams in every state in the nation, especially by expanding the already large numbers of test refusals. Next is to transform this movement strength into concrete victories by winning state legislation and local regulations to cut back testing, end high stakes, and implement high-quality assessments.

 

ESSA pushes decision-making power about most aspects of accountability from federal education officials to the states and localities. It will take strong and savvy organizing to win needed changes. Here are some ways activists can bring positive change and avoid the law’s dangers.

 

Push for far fewer state and local tests:

 

Movement activists should organize to win these goals:

 

– No state standardized tests beyond those mandated by ESSA.

 

– No standardized local interim, benchmark, predictive, formative, or other such tests, including those embedded in commercial on-line curricula.

 

– A ban on standardized testing in pre-K through grade 3.

 

– Transparency in the number, and uses of tests, and time spent on test preparation

 

While ESSA mandates 17 tests (grades 3-8 in reading and math, plus three grades for science), states and districts require many more. A recent study shows the average public school student takes 112. With fewer federal accountability mandates, states and districts will be under less pressure to test incessantly. ESSA also contains funding for states and districts to evaluate and reduce their testing programs.

 

Organize to end your state or district’s high-stakes testing mandates:

 

– End state requirements that students pass standardized exams to graduate or be promoted to the next grade, as many states already are. These are not required by federal law or regulations.

 

– End requirements to judge educators by student standardized exam scores. ESSA eliminated any federal mandate for test-based teacher evaluation. Now activists must incorporate this change locally by preventing states from deciding to perpetuate these dangerous policies.

 

– Fight for tests to be no more than 51% of the weight in your state’s formula for ranking schools (the minimum percentage allowed under ESSA). Ensure that other indicators are educationally sound, and that states provide assistance (including additional funding), not punishment, to schools identified as “low performers.” ESSA does require states to rank all schools and act to improve the lowest performing, but the types of interventions are no longer specified in federal law.

 

Win better assessment:

 

Push to have your state become one of the seven that will be allowed to completely overhaul their testing systems under ESSA pilot programs. Ensure that the overhaul includes primarily locally-based, teacher-controlled assessments, such as projects and portfolios. The New York Performance Standards Consortium is currently the best U.S. example of educator-controlled performance assessments.

 

Get your state to pass an opt-out law:

 

In 2015, a few more states, including Oregon [link to statute] passed laws recognizing the right of parents to hold their children out of standardized testing, while similar opt-out bills advanced in one or both houses of several other legislatures. ESSA recognizes that families can refuse testing if a state has an opt-out law. The new law does mandate 95% test participation, but leaves it up to the states to decide what to do if a school or district does not reach that threshold. At a minimum, activists should organize to block moves to punish students who opt out or schools and districts with low participation rates.

 

Use elections to raise issues:

 

Use the 2016 election cycle to hold incumbents and challengers accountable for implementing assessment reform. Groups with appropriate tax status should consider endorsing/opposing candidates based on their positions on testing. Activists, including tax-exempt groups, can use questionnaires, candidate forums, bird-dogging, and letters to the editor to force candidates to take clear positions.

 

Recognize and Block ESSA’s Dangers:

 

ESSA allows states to use federal assessment funding to revise their testing programs modestly, such as by adding tasks, portfolios and formative assessments. However, these tools are generally intended to be incorporated into standardized tests, as with the PARCC and SBAC Common Core exams. Performance assessments cannot fulfill their promise if they become mere adjuncts to current state exams. Similarly, a provision allowing districts to use a college admission test such as the ACT or SAT as the required high school exam must be treated with caution; those tests are no better educationally than existing state tests, and they have not been validated to assess high school academic performance.

 

Corporations such as Pearson and the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are promoting a dangerous version of “performance assessments.” They have perverted ideas developed by progressive educators, and the language used to describe them, such as “performance tasks” and “embedded” and “formative” assessments, to promote centrally controlled, largely on-line testing and instruction. The movement must strenuously resist these maneuvers, not by abandoning the fight for high-quality assessments or the labels we use for them, but by distinguishing educationally helpful from harmful practices.

 

The Next Reauthorization: ESSA is due to be reviewed by Congress in 2020. It is not too early to think about what kind of federal law can be won as the movement builds more clout and wins more victories at the state and local level.

 

 

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