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Speaker Boehner Supports Annual Tests in NCLB Renewal

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, has said that he is in favor of keeping No Child Left Behind's annual, statewide assessment schedule in a rewrite of the law.

Now it looks like he'll have support for that approach from Rep. John A. Boehner, the Speaker of the House. Boehner was an architect of the original NCLB law when he served as chairman of the House education committee back in 2001.

The "Speaker supports the House approach, which includes annual testing, which was in the House bill last Congress and will be in our bill this Congress as well," Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Boehner, said in a January 28 email. And yes, Smith clarified that "annual tests" means the current testing schedule, which calls for yearly, statewide reading and math tests in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. 

It's worth noting that Boehner is a huge supporter of school choice. Some choice advocates, especially in the charter community, worry that getting rid of annual tests could make it harder for parents to make informed decisions about where to send their children.  

Boehner's view may be important, since he helps set the agenda in the House. But it isn't really a surprise given that the speaker generally likes to give power to committee chairmen—and he and Kline have a good working relationship. Plus, House leaders, which presumably include Boehner, didn't allow the full House to vote on an amendment to an NCLB rewrite bill in 2013 that would have allowed for testing only in certain grade spans, a policy the National Education Association supports.  

Importantly, the annual-testing question hasn't been settled in the Senate yet. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, put the issue on the table in the current debate over NCLB renewal by giving lawmakers two different options on assessments to consider in a draft bill introduced earlier this month. (Cheat sheet here.)

One option would allow states to do pretty much whatever they want on testing. The other would keep the NCLB's law's testing regime in place, but let districts try out other approaches in lieu of the state assessment system, as long as their states (but not the feds) give the okay. 

It's possible that Alexander, who is still undecided on assessments, may wind up on the same page as Kline and Boehner. He could decide to keep the law's testing schedule in place, but return accountability back to the states. He certainly seemed very sympathetic to that argument in this interview with Time magazine, and during an exchange with Terry Holliday, the commissioner of education in Kentucky, in an NCLB reauthorization hearing focused on teachers

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