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ESSA Architect John Kline to Betsy DeVos: Don't Let States Skirt Law's Testing Rules


Former Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., an Every Student Succeeds Act architect, was one of the most prominent voices clamoring for more local control over K-12 when the law was wending its way through Congress. 

But now Kline is worried that at least two states—Arizona and New Hampshire—have passed laws that skirt key "guardrails" in the law aimed holding schools accountable and protecting students' civil rights.

Congress, Kline writes in a commentary for Education Week, made the conscious decision to stick with statewide tests so that parents could compare results from one school district to the next. But new laws in both states seem to fly in the face of that rule, which is a key part of the balance lawmakers were going for in writing ESSA.

Kline pointed to a legal brief written by Dennis M. Cariello, a former top lawyer for the Education Department under President George W. Bush, which examined both states' laws and how they relate to ESSA. (More in this blog post by the Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.)

Arizona's law would give schools a choice of tests to use from grade 3 on, beginning in the 2019-20 school year.  And New Hampshire's law calls for districts to give tests once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school.

To be sure, New Hampshire has a special waiver to try out new kinds of performance assessments in a handful of districts. But the Granite State is supposed to shoot for making those tests statewide.

In his commentary, Kline called on the U.S. Department of Education to "enforce the fundamental requirement that the same annual tests be given to all students."

And he added, "I backed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos when President Donald Trump originally nominated her, and I still believe that she will succeed in her pledge to defend ESSA. I am confident she will be a champion for states as they implement the law—including the necessity that all students take the same annual tests."

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