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AFT, Obama-Linked Think Tank Champion Annual Testing—With a Caveat

By guest blogger Stephen Sawchuk. Crossposted from Teacher Beat.


As you should know by now, the hottest issue over the pending rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act is whether the law's core requirement for accountability based on the results of annual student tests should be maintained, or scrapped in favor of fewer exams. 

Now, the American Federation of Teachers and the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank long associated with the Obama Administration, have proposed a sort of compromise. Their statement, first reported by The Washington Post, says that annual testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school should be maintained. But, the scores from the exams should only factor into state accountability systems once in each grade span (elementary, middle, and high school).

This is a big surprise, marking a significant policy shift for both groups. The AFT has been among those leading the charge against the annual testing requirement. See the accountability resolution it passed just six months ago saying such tests should not be given annually, for example. 

Similarly, CAP's Executive Vice President for Policy, Carmel Martin, is a former Education Department employee who had supported the annual testing-and-accountability requirements at the heart of the law. (Is the Obama administration signalling what it might be willing to compromise on through a trusted channel?)

Both groups add that new state accountability systems should take factors other than test scores into account, a change the AFT has been pushing for a while.

"These systems should also include high school graduation rates at the high school level and other academic measures. While academic indicators should be substantial factors, states should also---as some are doing currently--include qualitative criteria such as school-quality reviews, climate and safety measures, success of students on college-preparation curricula, and/or measures of social and emotional learning," the statement reads.

And the groups say that the federal government should double the currently $2.4 million federal teacher-quality grants to invest in better teacher preparation and professional development. New money for teacher quality is something U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hinted at in a recent wide-ranging speech defending annual tests.

Read the full statement here.

UPDATED, 3:17 p.m.: I asked the National Education Association for its take on the principles. Here's what a spokesman sent along:

"We like just about everything about these principles [AFT-CAP's], especially the principles relating to accountability for equity. What the principles don't specify, however, is how tests will be used in a re-imagined or amended ESEA accountability system. And, it's not clear how these principles will lead to more time to teach and more time to learn." 

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