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Feingold, Leahy Seek to Change Testing

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I closed my last post asking if testing and accountability would be the issues of the week. The next moment, my colleague, Alyson Klein, sends me a copy of this release.

I guess the answer is yes.

Today, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the Improving Student Testing Act of 2007. The bill would dramatically scale back the amount of testing and the types of assessments given under NCLB.

"There are a number of other issues that we need to address in the NCLB reauthorization," Sen. Feingold said in his statement when introducing the bill in the Senate. "My bill seeks to address some of the top concerns I have heard about from constituents around the state related to testing."

According to this summary, here's how testing would change under the bill:

States would assess students for accountability purposes three times in their K-12 career, once during three separate grade spans (grades 3-5, grades 6-9, and grades 10-12). That compares to every year in grades 3-8 and once in high school under current law.

New grants would help states build testing systems that don't rely on multiple-choice tests. The new tests would support accountability systems that "take into account the diverse academic needs of all students," the summary says.

The bill would postpone the deadline for universal proficiency until Congress fully finances NCLB's Title I program. The current deadline is the end of the 2013-14 school year.

The press release says several education groups support the bill, including the National Education Association, the American Association of School Administrators, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Wisconsin groups representing teachers, principals, and superintendents also have endorsed it.

Sen. Feingold, who voted against NCLB in 2001, said that he would like to make other changes to NCLB. In his speech, he listed two: how NCLB addresses the needs of special education students and English-language learners and how NCLB intervenes in schools that fail to make AYP.

Maybe one of those issues will take over this blog some week. But this week looks as if its going to be about testing and accountability.

2 Comments

I come from a state that had only three testing times (4th, 6th, 9th) as Senator Feingold's bill suggests. Schools positioned their teaching heavy hitters in these grades. In between there was diminished attention paid to curriculum, teaching methodology, basically everything else. Saddest was the grades AFTER the test. Fifth grade (generally the last grade of elementary) was a blow off year--leaving the middle schools up in arms that their incoming 6th graders were not adequately prepared (to learn what they needed to pass the test). Seventh and eighth grades (middle school in most districts) were similarly overlooked, leaving high schools with the same problem. This was eased a bit by allowing middle schools to give the 9th grade test to 8th grades and get some recognition for those who passed.

Grants to develop tests that don't rely on multiple choice is probably a good thing, but I don't think that the schools or teachers are really "there" yet. I don't see lots of tests/assignments from the classroom being put in other formats. The Ohio questions that are in short answer and especially the short essay format are the ones that have a high non-response rate. It's really important that we pay attention not only to what people (NEA, AFT, etc) SAY, but also what they DO.

While I agree with Margo's comment that diminished attention may be paid to students in the supposed "non-tested" years, at what point to we shove this testing treadmill out of the foreground and look towards other modes of assessment? I am a third grade teacher in a Spanish-speaking community in California and I had quite a few success stories last year that (gasp!) could not be logged on a standardized test: Reading fluency scores that gained 60 to 70 words per minute, writing that found clarity,voice (and punctuation) over a nine month period, etc. Of course any type of portfolio assessment of my skills could not be printed in the local newspaper. These testing based laws are destroying education in our country. Standardized tests should never be more than a fifth of any elementary students overall assessment and rarely present an accurate picture of a teacher's skills.

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