As Congress debates how to rewrite No Child Left Behind, the nation’s largest teachers union is launching a $500,000 ad campaign urging lawmakers to reach a deal that reduces the focus on standardized testing.

The National Education Association says its 3 million members instead want to see lawmakers find ways to highlight and address disparities in resources among schools.

“Testing cannot close the gap between wealthy schools and poor schools,” a teacher’s aide says in the ad.

“We need to lower the class sizes so that each student can get that one-on-one attention that they need,” says a second-grade teacher.

“They need access to art and to music, they need to be in P.E. classes,” says a high school physics teacher.

The advertisement is slated to run on television and online in 13 states that are home to members of the Senate education committee, which will play a key role in determining whether and how Congress is able to reach a deal.

The ad campaign comes 50 years after the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now better known as No Child Left Behind. The 1965 law, part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, aimed to improve education across the nation and especially in poor school districts, which received additional federal dollars under ESEA to serve needy children.

The law still funnels billions of federal dollars to schools with high concentrations of poor children. But since 2002, it has also required annual standardized tests and sanctions at schools that failed to meet performance target.

The aim was to shine a light on schools that persistently failed to serve their neediest children, but the law has come under fire for being unrealistic and overly punitive, and for causing schools to narrow their lessons in order to prepare for math and reading tests.

The NEA wants to do away with annual testing and require schools and school districts to publish information about the academic and extracurricular opportunities that they offer their students.

“Under No Child Left Behind, the focus has shifted away from helping those most in need and moved towards testing, labeling and punishing schools, with no significant closure of achievement or opportunity gaps,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement.

“Today, we call on all Americans to join us and take action, to speak up, to raise their hands, to reaffirm President Johnson’s ‘fierce commitment to the ideal of education for everyone.’ ”

A coalition of major civil rights groups is lobbying to retain annual testing as well as the federal government’s role in determining what should happen to schools where scores are persistently low.

The fate of the effort to rewrite the law now lies largely with the Senate education committee. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have been working for weeks to hammer out a bipartisan deal that they expect to unveil next week.

The union’s ads will run in Alexander’s and Murray’s home states, as well as in:

Alaska (home to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski)
Colorado (Sen. Michael Bennet, D)
Connecticut (Sen. Christopher Murphy, D)
Georgia (Sen. Johnny Isakson, R)
Illinois (Sen. Mark Kirk, R)
Massachusetts (Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D)
Maine (Sen. Susan Collins, R)
Maryland (Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D)
Minnesota (Sen. Al Franken, D)
North Carolina (Sen. Richard Burr, R)
Pennsylvania (Sen. Bob Casey, D)