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What to Expect from Witnesses at Senate Education Committee Hearing on Testing

The Senate education committee has unveiled its list of witnesses for the upcoming Jan. 21 hearing on testing and accountability—the first hearing pegged to reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act, the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Here's the list of witnesses:

  • Marty West, Associate Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Education, Concord, N.H.
  • Tom Boasberg, Superintendent, Denver Public Schools, Denver, Colo.
  • Jia Lee, 4th and 5th Grade Special Education Teacher, Earth School, New York, N.Y.
  • Wade Henderson, President and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, Washington, D.C.

So what will they say? And what does their selection say about what lawmakers are thinking?

Let's look into the Politics K-12 crystal ball ...

First up, Marty West. He served as an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been an important education policy counselor to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate education committee.

The voucher school bill that Alexander introduced last Congress with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who also sits on the education committee, was heavily influenced by West. That measure would allow parents to use their child's Title I dollars at any school of their choice, including a private school. While there are no vouchers in the reauthorization draft (yet), there is portability language that would let Title I money follow students to the public school of their choice.

Notably, just this week, West gave an interview with the Harvard Gazette in which he said that the current annual testing regimen should be maintained.

Paul Leather is a smart choice for the committee because New Hampshire has been trying out various testing and accountability systems.

New Hampshire has been experimenting with competency-based learning for years—something Alexander's reauthorization draft would allow states to do. Last fall, the Granite State proposed a very small pilot project, in four of its roughly 84 districts. Those districts would test students every year. But, in some grades or subjects, they would use the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests, and in other grades or subjects they would use performance-based exams. These tests, known as PACE assessments in New Hampshire, are designed by the state and local districts.

Meanwhile, Tom Boasberg has overseen a charter school expansion in Denver as well as a relatively successful turnaround effort in the northeast corner of the city. That he hails from Colorado is of particular importance, as Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., the former superintendent of Denver, sits on the education committee. Bennet has been a major player in education legislation, particularly in backing the Obama administration priorities.  

We didn't know much about Jia Lee or the Earth School before today. Big thanks to Anne Hyslop, senior education policy analyst at Bellwether Education for digging up and tweeting out this story from The Nation that put Lee squarely in the anti-testing camp.  

hyslop.PNGAnd on the flip side of that, we end with Wade Henderson, who represents an organization that came out strong against Alexander's discussion draft yesterday. In a press release, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights demanded stronger accountability measures, and here's what its executive vice president had to say:

"Now is not the time to make a U-turn in holding states and school districts accountable for providing a quality education to all children," said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference. "Unfortunately, Chairman Alexander's opening proposal would send us back to a dark time in our nation when schools across the country, operating with no federal oversight, could freely ignore the needs of disadvantaged students."

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