'No Child' Needs to Expand Beyond Tests, Chair Says

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The House education committee chairman called yesterday for "serious changes" to the No Child Left Behind law, including new ways to measure school progress, in a proposal some Republicans fear could jeopardize efforts to renew the law this year.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the chairman, said the five-year-old law, a cornerstone of President Bush's domestic policy, has put too much emphasis on standardized testing.

"The American people have a very strong sense that No Child Left Behind is not fair, it is not flexible and it is not funded. And they are not wrong," Miller, who helped write the law, said in a speech at the National Press Club. "I can also tell you that there are no votes in the House of Representatives for continuing the No Child Left Behind Act without making serious changes to it."

Miller said he expects that the House will vote in September on legislation to renew the law, which requires students to be tested in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress on those tests face possible sanctions.

But Miller said yesterday that schools should be able to include measures besides the reading and math tests in determining progress, such as graduation rates or the number of students passing Advanced Placement exams. "Many Americans do not believe that the success of our students or of our schools can be measured by one test administered on one day, and I agree with them," he said.

Some civil rights groups have expressed concern that such changes could weaken the law. "In our experience, institutions that are held accountable for too many things are, in the end, accountable for nothing," several groups that back the law, such as the Citizens' Commission for Civil Rights and the Education Trust, wrote in a recent letter to Miller.

Ross Wiener, vice president for program and policy at Education Trust, a group that promotes improving education for disadvantaged students, applauded a reference in Miller's speech to the importance of making sure every student is proficient in reading and math. But he said many supporters of the law are concerned about using new criteria to measure progress.

"The devil is definitely in the details in this case," he said.

Teacher unions, a powerful force in Democratic politics, strongly support the use of so-called multiple measures, but they are expected to oppose another Miller proposal: paying teachers based in part on how their students perform.

No Child Left Behind has come under attack from conservatives, who see the law as a federal intrusion into public schools, and from liberals, who believe it focuses too much on standardized tests. So far, the law has kept the support of leading Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

But Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House education committee, said yesterday that some of Miller's proposals could "be a fatal blow to the reauthorization process." Republican aides said he is particularly troubled by multiple measures and is pushing for more options for taxpayer-financed private tutoring.

"Any attempts to weaken the law will be met with stiff resistance from House Republicans," McKeon said in a statement, expressing concern that "some of the Democrat proposals will undermine transparency for parents and the ability to hold schools accountable for student performance."

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