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Testing, Testing

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A lot of comments across the Web—like here, and here, and here—about a Congressional Quarterly report that Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon doesn't like the Democratic draft of an NCLB bill.

McKeon is especially concerned about the language that would allow districts to use so-called multiple measures in determining AYP, according to one of his aides. The aide pointed to a July 13 letter from the Education Trust and civil rights groups calling for "extreme caution" in allowing for scores from new tests to be used in calculating AYP. Any such alternate tests would "dilute Title I's clear focus on the literacy and mathematics skills that students need" and could confuse parents because of conflicting information.

The interesting subtext here is the politics. Several press reports have pointed out Republican divisions over NCLB. But here we're seeing the Democratic divide.

The groups that signed the July 13 letter are part of the Democratic coalition (e.g. the Center for American Progress, the National Council of La Raza, and the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights). So are the groups that comprise the Forum on Educational Accountability, which is working hardest to introduce new tests into the AYP structure. The Forum includes the NEA, AFT, and a host of other groups traditionally aligned with Democrats.

FairTest—which is spearheading the coalition—goes so far as to say that tests under NCLB should "first help teachers to teach better, and secondly contribute, when they are technically adequate, to accountability information." That proposal will never fly to believers that statewide testing should be the central element of any accountability system.

What does this mean for efforts to get an NCLB bill ready for the House to consider?

Aaron Albright, the press secretary for Democrats on the Education and Labor Committee, said Miller is "working hard to introduce a bill as soon as possible, and we are working in a bipartisan way."

McKeon tells CQ that he believes the Education and Labor Committee won't vote on an NCLB bill before Congress adjourns for August recess.

1 Comment

Thanks for the generally accurate update, but two clarifications:

1) Most of the major civil rights organizations in the US - NAACP,Urban League, LULAC, Aspira, NAACP-LDF, Childrens Defense Fund, National Alliance of Black School Educators, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and another dozen groups -- have signed the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB that calls for "using multiple indicators of student achievement." The Statement underlies the work of the Forum on Educational Accountability.

Very importantly, this is not a matter of civil rights groups versus education groups. Rather, most civil rights groups understand the value of have more indicators than just standardized test scores.

2) FairTest's comment regarding the use of assessments pertained explicitly to the new locally-based assessments that should be developed with significant federal funding. If the sole and immediate goal is more accountability testing, it will probably further anger and uselessly burden teachers. Insead, educators and systems should start from what is instructionally useful, developing assessments that can better support that purpose and supporting teachers to develop and use many forms of assessment. Then educators, researchers and states can figure out how to use the multiple forms of evidence that arise from these assessments fairly and accurately for accountability purposes.

Our critics claim these assessments are not valid or reliable for accountability, but they already are in some cases (e.g., Nebraska) and thus can be in other states.

We hope Rep. Miller, Sen. Kennedy and the members of both education committees come to understand this.

The Statement and the FEA material is on the FairTest website www.fairtest.org and the FEA website www.edaccountability.org.

Monty Neill
Chair, Forum on Educational Accountability
Co-Executive Director, FairTest

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