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Senate Education Committee Clears Education Research Bill

The Senate education committee cleared the education research bill Wednesday morning, a measure that the Senate didn't get around to passing during last Congress's lame-duck session, despite the fact that the House and Senate had reached a bipartisan and bicameral agreement on the long-overdue reauthorization.

The bill was adopted by voice vote, with Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., touting the measure for strengthening the National Assessment Governing Board, which administers the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP.

"It's very important to our work on No Child Left Behind," said Alexander. "Most people agree that NAEP, as we call it, is the gold standard for being able to tell how states are doing."

The chairman's comments come as his committee is feverishly working on drafting a reauthorization of the federal K-12 law, the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Among the biggest policy debates is whether or not to maintain the law's annual testing requirements and how those tests should play into a reimagined accountability system.

Among the witnesses who testified at the two hearings the committee has so far convened about NCLB reauthorization, the general consensus seems to be that states should have more flexibility when it comes to crafting their own accountability systems, but that the annual testing schedule and disaggregated data reporting requirements should be maintained.

"I think we all know that education research is really critical to giving our teachers, our school leaders, our local policy leaders, and us here in Congress, frankly, really valuable information about what happens in the classroom," Murray said after the panel cleared the bill.

"It's high-quality research that helps our states and schools raise achievement levels," Murray continued. "The bill that we just voted on will make it easier for states and schools to get access to useful data and make research more relevant to state and local needs."

The measure now gets in line for Senate floor time, though it's unclear whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plans to put a priority on such a small piece of legislation amid larger priorities such as the Keystone pipeline, homeland security, and immigration.

It's also unclear when the House plans to take up the bill, which, unlike the Senate, passed the measure last Congress. The chamber's education committee will need to clear the bill first, but it has yet to put it on the schedule. 

"Enhancing the quality of education research is critical to improving student achievement and has long been a priority for the committee," said a committee spokeswoman. "We are pleased the Senate is moving forward with a bill that reflects the bipartisan, bicameral agreement reached last year, and Chairman [John] Kline is hopeful that Congress can send a bill to the president's desk as soon as possible."

The Institute of Education Sciences, the U.S. Department of Education's research arm, has been waiting on new legislation since 2008.

So what would the bill actually do? Great explanation here from my colleague, Sarah Sparks.

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