When Will Congress Hear from Parents on Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind?

Common Core
AP Photo/AJ Mast

One of the major problems that the adoption of Common Core’s standards has led to is excessive testing—at all grade levels from kindergarten on—sometimes more than one test per grade level.

It is not yet clear if current drafts for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind or NCLB in its 2002 reauthorization) are going to let states and local school boards choose, not only how many tests to mandate for the children in the state, but also the grade levels at which schools must administer these Common Core-based tests.

Although one would think that providing options for testing would be a strong signal by Congress that it wants to give back to local and state educational agencies some of the educational authority the US Department of Education has taken away from them, arguments are now being made to Congress to keep in place the NCLB testing mandates. Who exactly would benefit from this testing regime—certainly not the teachers and the students in our classrooms, nor their parents.

Professor Martin West at the Harvard Graduate School of Education makes it clear who would benefit from the excessive testing regime mandated by NCLB and possibly continued in the reauthorization of ESEA (which, incidentally, required no tests when it was first authorized in 1965). In no case are teachers and their students benefiting. In written testimony dated January 21, 2015, provided to a Congressional hearing, he gave the following six reasons for keeping annual testing. I have commented on each of his reasons.

Eliminating annual testing is unnecessary because the annual tests in math and reading (and grade-span testing in science) currently required under NCLB typically account for less than half of the total amount of time students spend taking standardized tests.

Professor West needs to speak to teachers directly. Teachers can estimate how much time they actually are teaching to Common Core-based tests, knowing they are being evaluated by test results. The research that Professor West may be referring to did not ask teachers how much instructional time they would spend or are already spending teaching to Common Core-based tests when their annual evaluations are based, in large part, in many states on student test scores.

Measures based on the amount students learn from one year to the next can provide a more accurate gauge of schools’ contribution to student learning. These kinds of measures are only possible, however, when students are tested in adjacent grades.

Professor West needs to speak to teachers directly. Teachers quickly find out what their students learned the previous year by giving them a review quiz in the first weeks of school. At least, they used to do this. They don’t need results from a standardized test that is not directly related to the curriculum that students studied the year before.

Accountability based on grade-span testing judges schools based on the students they serve, not how well they serve them.

Common Core-based test results are not going to be used for judging schools. The US Department of Education has made it very clear that they will be used for judging teachers.

In addition to preventing the development of better and fairer measures of school performance, eliminating annual testing would have other negative consequences: First, it would all but eliminate school-level information about the learning of student subgroups…

Is it really the case that all African-American students learn in the same way? And do all Hispanic students learn in the same way and in ways that are different from the ways in which other kinds of students learn? Where is the research evidence to support these stereotypes?

Second, it would sharply limit the information available to parents making choices about the school their child attends, whether through open-enrollment programs in traditional public schools or under charter school programs.

Does Professor West really know that parents use standardized or state test scores to decide whether their child needs another kind of school program? Did he speak to any parents? Where is the research evidence?

Third, it would prevent policymakers and researchers from evaluating the effectiveness of new education programs when, as is typically the case, the appropriate research design depends on knowledge of students’ recent achievement.

It may well be the case that education researchers and policy-makers are the only ones who would like the information, even if teachers are not happy about being evaluated by student test scores or spending a lot of time teaching to the tests, and even if parents want more teaching and less testing in their children’s schools. Will Congress listen to parents? They don’t seem to be scheduled to talk at hearings on re-authorizing ESEA.


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