FairTest has been the staunchest, most persistent critic of standardized testing for decades. Monty Neill explains here why FairTest supports ESSA, with full recognition of its faults.
“From an assessment reform perspective, FairTest is convinced that the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) now before the House and Senate, though far from perfect, improves on current testing policy. The bill significantly reduces federal accountability mandates and opens the door for states to overhaul their own assessment systems.
“Failure to pass this bill in 2015 means NCLB and waivers will continue to wreak havoc for at least another several years.
“The primary improvement would be in “accountability.” The unrealistic “Adequate Yearly Progress” annual test score gain requirement would be gone, as would be all the federally mandated punitive sanctions imposed on schools and teachers. States will be free to end much of the damage to educational quality and equity they built into their systems to comply with NCLB and waivers. Waivers to NCLB would end as of Aug. 1, 2016. (Other provisions of the bill would take effect over the coming summer and fall.)
“Another modest win would be federal recognition of the right for parents to opt their children out of tests in states that allow it. While a 95 percent test-participation provision remains, states will decide what happens to schools that do not meet the threshold. (The feds had already backed down from enforcing this dictate.)….
“A dangerous requirement to rank schools continues. Worse, rankings must be based predominantly on student scores. High school rankings must include graduation rates, and all schools must incorporate English learners’ progress towards English proficiency. This data must be broken out by “subgroup” status. However, states must incorporate at least one additional indicator of school quality (such as school climate or student engagement) and can include multiple such indicators….
“Meanwhile, up to seven states will be able to fundamentally overhaul their assessments right away, with additional states allowed to join this pilot program after three years. States could design systems that rely primarily on local, teacher-developed performance assessments (as does the New York Performance Standards Consortium). New Hampshire already has a waiver from NCLB to do that, starting with allowing pilot districts to administer the state test in only three grades. For all grades, the pilots employ a mix of state and local teacher designed performance tasks, an approach with great potential.
“The new law also bars the U.S. Secretary of Education from intervening in most aspects of state standards, assessment, accountability and improvement. Given Secretary Arne Duncan’s history (and the track record in New York state of his soon-to-be acting successor, John King), that seems a good thing.”
The law is not ideal. But it is far better than NCLB or the failed Race to Nowhere. And we can keep fighting for a better law and resisting at the local level by opting out.