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Answer Sheet
Posted at 03:00 AM ET, 10/07/2011

What should — and shouldn’t — be in Senate No Child Left Behind bill

This was written by Monty Neill,  executive director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a Boston-based non-profit dedicated to ending the misuse of tests . A different version was published on the National Journal Education blog.

By Monty Neill

This Tuesday, leaders of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are expected to introduce a “base bill” draft for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. After several days of public comment, the committee will hold a “markup” session in which they consider amendments to the draft.

The committee leadership proposal will reflect core agreements among Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), subcommittee chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), ranking member Mike Enzi (WY) and ranking subcommittee member Lamar Alexander (R-TN). It likely will provoke many amendments, in order to address topics the leadership has not agreed upon and to fix at least some of what are likely to be major flaws. Some “fixes” will try to make the new bill look more like NCLB. Others could lead to important improvements.

Some fundamental changes to NCLB, such as significantly reducing the amount of mandated testing, are not even on the table. Nor is spending enough money to ensure high quality educational opportunities for all children.

Here are the key points that FairTest believes should be part of a Senate bill. We rely in part on the recommendations of the Forum on Educational Accountability, a group of non-profit organizations committed to closing the achievement gap.

1) Do not mandate any additional standardized testing; there is already far too much. Do not use teacher or principal evaluation as a reason to require more tests. [ FairTest’s website, including NCLB/ESEA page, fact sheets, and newsletter, explains why test-based “reform” has not succeeded in improving schools.]

 2) Do not mandate the use of student test scores to judge educators in any federally funded program. [See What Should Congress Do About Teacher Evaluation? ] The accuracy of student test scores for judging educators is little better than flipping a coin. [See Student Test Scores: An Inaccurate Way to Judge Teachers.]

 3) Do not require states to rate schools of education based on the test scores of students taught by their graduates. The inaccuracy of judging classroom educators by their students’ test scores is compounded when used to judge the teachers’ schools of education.  

4) Do not mandate the use of so-called “value-added” or “growth” models for evaluating students or educators. [See Student Test Scores .]

 5) Do authorize funding to help states, districts and schools develop locally controlled, teacher-led performance assessments for formative and summative purposes

6) Do require locally designed school turnaround efforts that expect schools to improve through a focus on the “common elements” of leadership; staffing and instruction; professional learning/development; curriculum; school climate; and parent, caregiver and community engagement and support. This would be required of the most troubled schools, encouraged in all Title I schools. [The Forum on Educational Accountability wrote A Research- and Experience-Based Turnaround Process .]

 7) Do hold schools accountable “for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement.” [from the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind, signed by 155 national education, civil rights, religious, disability, parent and civic organizations.] Require evaluations of the causes of weak learning outcomes in the most needy schools, then mandate development and implementation of improvement plans, to be overseen by the district, that address the “common elements.” Require annual reporting on progress and proposed changes. Recommend this process be used voluntarily by all Title I schools.

8) Do require states to create opportunity-to-learn indicators that would include community conditions (such as family poverty and mobility rate, and economic or racial segregation), school resources and conditions, and student outcomes. Also require states to develop strategies for providing resources to overcome inequities and inadequacies identified by the indicators.  

9) Do halt exclusionary discipline and support proven practices known as “restorative justice” and “positive behavioral supports. [as explained in Federal Policy, ESEA Reauthorization, and the School to Prison Pipeline ; and Dignity in Schools.]

 

It remains true that reauthorization may not get beyond the education committees (the House Education Committee will soon work on bills pertaining to teachers and principals and to testing and accountability).

But agreements reached now help set the stage for the next effort, should no final bill pass this Congress.

Those who agree with the above recommendations can let their senators know. FairTest tells you how you can get involved at this webpage: http://fairtest.org/national/get_involved

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By  |  03:00 AM ET, 10/07/2011

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