Standards, Testing & Accountability

It’s fascinating—and telling—how rapidly the zillion issues tucked away in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have been distilled down to arguments about testing.

There’s been almost no discussion, at least in places where I look, about Titles II through X of the 2002 (NCLB) version, and most of Title I’s myriad provisions seem also to have been set aside while people argue over the future of annual testing.

The new House bill would retain that requirement, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, though declaring himself open-minded on the subject, seems to be moving closer toward keeping it.

Testing is of course controversial in its own right. Many people think there’s too much of it and that it’s getting in the way of teaching and learning. I’ve come to view annual testing of kids in reading and math, and the disaggregating and public reporting of their performance at the school (and district) level, as the single best feature of NCLB and the one that most needs preserving. Indeed, I wish the testing requirement extended below third grade and above eighth, and that it was as demanding for science and history as for reading and math. That, I believe, would do a world of good for K–12 education.

But I also know that’s lunacy. Nobody is about to expand the testing requirement. The real-world argument is whether to preserve what’s already there. But the reason it’s controversial is not because of parental upset with...

Over the last couple of months, the ESEA reauthorization discussion has focused on testing. But that’s just one part of the accountability conversation.

As I see it, there are four major components of the federal accountability framework: testing, school and district designations, performance targets, and interventions (more on these below). Whether ESEA is reauthorized this year depends on how these sub-issues get resolved.

Mike, trying to forecast the shape of a final bill, recently created a very helpful table explaining the NCLB policies that he assessed to be totally off the table, certain to survive, or up for debate. I think his table did a solid job of explaining the lay of the land.

But it seems to me that more is needed to help folks with a higher level of involvement, such as those actually crafting the new legislative language, advising members of Congress, hoping to persuade decision-makers from the outside, or trying to understand the inevitable bargains to be made.

I think the shortcoming of Mike’s table is that its entries (like “cascade of sanctions” and “school ratings”) aren’t binary; that is, they can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Policymaking in general, especially complex congressional negotiations, requires (and has a way of finding) compromises.

Each of the four accountability components listed above encompasses a range of options. On one end of the spectrum is no federal accountability; on the other end is forceful accountability. Between lie an array of possibilities.

I’ve produced a graphic...

The DOA edition

Obama’s budget, a bad book about testing, differentiation difficulties, and the high cost of empty buildings.Institute for Law & Liberty (January 2015). 

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Rick Esenberg, CJ Szafir, and Martin F. Lueken, Ph.D., "Kids in Crisis, Cobwebs in Classrooms," Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (January 2015). 

 

Aylssa:             Hello, this is your host Alyssa Schwenk of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here at the Education Gadfly Show and Online at edexcellence.net. Now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the right shark of educational reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert:            How nice.

Aylssa:             Thank you.

Robert:            Can I be the Marshawn Lynch of education reform?

Aylssa:             I think as long as you're not the Pete Carroll of education reform, you're in good standing.

Robert:            I just want to say that I'm only here so I don't get fined.

Aylssa:             Not to dance at all?

Robert:            Not to dance, and not to call a bad play in the line of scrimmage. Let's hope.

Aylssa:             I actually cannot follow this part of the conversation because I was one of those people watching the Super Bowl exclusively for the half-time show-

Robert:            Right.

Aylssa:             And the commercials, but I do know that that was a bad call.

Robert:            Okay. The football game, that's the part that wasn't the commercials or the half-time show. With the guys in the helmets, that was-

Aylssa:             You mean when I went to go get food?

Robert:            Exactly.

Aylssa:             Okay.

Robert:            Right.

Aylssa:             All right. Moving on to education reform let's hop right into Pardon the Gadfly. Ellen, what's our first question today?

Ellen:               President Obama's budget was released this week and has been heavily panned by Republicans. Is it worth analyzing or is it just a bargaining chip?

Aylssa:             All right. President Obama on Monday released the first on-time budget of his administration, always an accomplishment. It had about $71 billion, slightly less than that, dedicated to education funding. It was a pie in the sky list of every initiative that he and Arne Duncan really want to get across in the next year or in the last two years of their administration. It included $750 million for pre-K funding, increases in charter school funding, increases in formula funding, but a lot of people are saying that it's just a political maneuver. Robert, what are your thoughts?

Robert:            A budget is by definition a political maneuver, is it not? It's a wish list.

Aylssa:             That is true. You measure what you treasure.

Robert:            Very nicely put.

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Is that original?

Aylssa:             I think it is actually ... No.

Robert:            I like it.

Aylssa:             Thank you.

Robert:            I would refer people to Andy Smarick's post on this-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            That he put up on our blog earlier this week. Andy is a veteran political observer-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            And he makes exactly that point. It's a political document. He points out that the chickens have come home to roost, that some of these incentive-based grant programs-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            That used to be very popular are suddenly unpopular. He also points out that the things you would expect to be popular with Congress will remain so-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            It's Title 1-

Aylssa:             Title 1.

Robert:            Funding and what not.

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Mike Petrilli, our other Fordham colleague, says basically what you said, "Dead on arrival. Why are we even talking about this."

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, I do think I agree that it is dead on arrival. I think it is a fairly ambitious list and we've also seen a more muscular ready-to-fight president than we've seen in the last couple of years. The State of the Union was almost cocky and very, very aggressive in some ways.

Robert:            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Aylssa:             Some might say confident, some might say aggressive. I do think that this budget is in a way kind of is a harbinger. Harbinger?

Robert:            A harbinger? A harbinger.

Aylssa:             A harbinger of what might be a more aggressive fight than people are expecting.

Robert:            It's easy to say that when you have both houses of Congress on your side which, of course, the President, remind me-

Aylssa:             That is.

Robert:            Does-

Aylssa:             Does ... Not.

Robert:            Does ... Not. Right? Okay.

Aylssa:             No, he doesn't.

Robert:            Again, why are we talking about this?

Aylssa:             Fair point. Question 2?

Ellen:               Robert, this week you penned a negative review of a new book on testing by Anya Kamenetz. Will you elaborate?

Robert:            Do I have to? I don't know Ms. Kamenetz. I listen to her reports on National Public Radio. She seems like a good and diligent and dutiful education reporter. Here's the thing, okay. I wanted so much to love this book. I have slightly unorthodox views about testing for somebody who is in the ed reform community. As a former teacher, I would say my relationship with testing is complicated. The problem is Anya Kamenetz's take on testing is kind of uncomplicated. She just really doesn't like it and she makes that clear right from the very, very-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Start. I was disposed to find things to agree with because, again, I have this relationship that testing, like she would say, "The testing has become the tail that wags the dog," but she's just in spots so stridently anti-testing that I'm finding myself hard-pressed to agree with very much in the book at all. One piece in particular that really raised my hackles is she raises the idea that testing almost by birth from its historical roots a century ago, there was something intrinsically racist, my words not hers, about standardized testing, but it completely overlooks the fact that testing has really done a lot for the cause-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Of equity in our-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Country. In fact, a week or so ago, there was a letter penned by some 19 or 20 different civil rights groups who are basically among the most stalwart proponents of testing-

Aylssa:             Yeah.

Robert:            But Ms. Kamenetz does not seem to be down with that argument.

Aylssa:             Yeah. It's kind of an unpopular view as a former teacher to take, but I liked testing or rather I liked assessment. I think the purposes and the value in it are frequently overlooked. It's something to keep your students on track. It's something that, as the civil rights leaders pointed out in their letters, to ensure that equity is being met, that students are making progress. It completely-

Robert:            Sure.

Aylssa:             Reshapes the landscape of schools since the 1960s forward. Has it created some perverse incentives? Yes. Has it at some schools, the one that I taught at was a very high-stress environment, particularly-

Robert:            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Aylssa:             Around testing time. Yes, absolutely. Those things need to be rectified. I do feel that there is value in testing, that this book, I haven't read it-

Robert:            Sure. Yeah.

Aylssa:             But it does apparently overlook.

Robert:            How could there not be.

Aylssa:             Right.

Robert:            None of us want to go to the battle days before-

Aylssa:             Right.

Robert:            We knew who was struggling and why. Another frustration with this book, at the end, she's all but advising parents to opt out of testing-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            I just wish somebody would go about this the following way. Rather than just say, "No more testing, we're not gonna do it," because look-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Parents are absolutely right to be concerned that there is too much testing. I would love to see some savvy group of parents go to a school and say, "Okay, Mr. Principal, Ms. Principal, here's the deal. We're inclined to opt out but we're going to give you a chance first.

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Keep the test prep away, the books away. No more practice tests. The second you turn schooling into test prep, our kids are going to opt out, so you teach, our kids will come for the test."

Aylssa:             You think that'll be effective?

Robert:            I do think it would be more effective because it would give parents what they want, a rich educational-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Experience. Would let teachers do what they want, to teach the-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Curriculum, not to the test. The irony, of course, would be if that happens and then the test scores come back looking poorly. Then, it'll be interesting to see if opt-out parents are as aggressive about wanting to opt out as they are now.

Aylssa:             That would be a fair point. I do think that looking ahead I know her daughter is quite young-

Robert:            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Aylssa:             And that was the genesis of writing this book. I often wonder will these parents opt out of the SAT when suddenly it has very steep consequences for their child.

Robert:            Testing been very, very good to those-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Of us who went to fine colleges, right?

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative). Amen. All right. Question 3.

Ellen:               Fordham colleague, David Griffith, recently wrote about his disastrous experience with differentiated instruction. You two were teachers, what do you think of this method?

Robert:            What do you think of it?

Aylssa:             My question back at you is what is differentiation?

Robert:            Great question.

Aylssa:             David, I think in his piece, which is out in today's Gadfly, addresses that paradox of, how do we define differentiation? It's like the elephant that six blind men are feeling, and sometimes it's a tree trunk, and sometimes it's a rope, but what is it actually?

Robert:            Yes.

Aylssa:             I have my own definition as a former teacher, and you're still teaching, Robert. What's your definition?

Robert:            First of all, I think differentiation is one of those things that more honored in the breach than the observance. Everybody talks about it, but very few people actually do it. You're exactly right.

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            In order to say do you like it, do you like it. The first question is what do you mean by differentiation.

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative). You know when you see it.

Robert:            Yeah, you know when you see it ... Or when you do it. In other words, for me, what does differentiation look like in my classroom. It means when I read two different student's papers, I'm looking for different things based on-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            How I think I can add value to them in terms of the feedback. If that's what you mean by differentiation, fine. If it means, I'm going to ask a different question of different kids in classroom discussion based on what I perceive to be their level of readiness-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            That's okay. If it means 24 kids doing 24 different things? No. That's a recipe for just frustration.

Aylssa:             I'm curious. I taught kindergarten and second grade, and my experiences is with differentiation and how it was perceived were very different with those two grade levels. When I was teaching kindergarten teaching small group or instructing in small groups, was considered geno-appropriate. People would come in and be, why are these kids working on this lesson and these kids working on this. I would be, it's developmentally appropriate. There's no such thing as silent or passive disengagement-

Robert:            Right.

Aylssa:             From a 5-year-old if they're not liking the lesson.

Robert:            They let you know.

Aylssa:             They're doing somersaults-

Robert:            Yeah.

Aylssa:             Quite literally doing somersaults, but I recognize that it's much different with older students.

Robert:            Sure.

Aylssa:             Are you when you're teaching high schoolers breaking out into small groups? Is that differentiation to you?

Robert:            Very, very rarely-

Aylssa:             Okay.

Robert:            I think it just doesn't work at the high school level. One other thing about differentiation that I think is worth noting. People have very strong opinions about this.

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            People will say, "Well, there's no evidence that it works, but, you know, there's no evidence that it doesn't." The thing that always occurs to me is that, look, we've got 3.7 million teachers-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            In this country with a range of effectiveness and proficiency. If the literature is mixed and we're not sure that these are effective-

Aylssa:             Right.

Robert:            Strategies, why are we needlessly complicating the job?

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            I bang on this drum mercilessly, but we've got to make teaching a job that mere mortals of average sentience can do, to a fairly high degree of proficiency.

Aylssa:             That's a ringing endorsement.

Robert:            I don't mean to be arch or ironic-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            At all when I say that. The job is hard enough. Why would you go and jump through hoops to make it immensely difficult if you're not absolutely sure there's benefits.

Aylssa:             That's true. I do think at the end of the day, teachers need to do what works best for them and their classroom and their kids, in conjunction with the administration, in conjunction with parents when appropriate. If it works for them, great, at what they're doing. They need to be doing something, I feel like they should be allowed to do that too.

Robert:            Amen.

Aylssa:             All right. I think that's all of the time that we have today for Pardon the Gadfly. Thanks so much, Ellen. Next up, Amber's Research Minute. Welcome to the show, Amber. How are you?

Amber:            Thank you, Aylssa, doing great.

Aylssa:             All right.

Amber:            Doing well.

Aylssa:             Earlier today, Robert was running touchdown dances around me with his football knowledge. I was watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night for Katy Perry and Left Shark and Right Shark-

Amber:            Oh. Right.

Aylssa:             And the commercials. Robert was, I don't know why you were watching it. You were trying to explain it to me, but it involves-

Robert:            Something about a football game.

Aylssa:             Touchdowns.

Robert:            Yes.

Aylssa:             Okay.

Robert:            It involved touchdowns.

Amber:            Great game.

Robert:            It really was, right?

Amber:            It was a great game.

Aylssa:             You we're watching?

Robert:            Yeah.

Amber:            Of course. That was just a terrible play. I was rooting for the Sea Hawks, just very, very depressed at that last play. Come on, what's he thinking that coach?

Aylssa:             Why he throw it?

Amber:            Why he throw it?

Aylssa:             All right.

Amber:            I'm preaching to the choir. Everybody knows this.

Aylssa:             Well, I was rooting for the Sea Hawks. I'm not sure you're-

Robert:            I was rooting for the Patriots. I have to say I-

Aylssa:             I was going to say you're from [inaudible 00:11:34] Northeast Corridor.

Robert:            I'm a Buffalo Bills fan, so the Patriots are in our division.

Aylssa:             I guess that's a good enough reason. I'm clearly not remotely qualified to judge. Amber, what do you have for us today?

Amber:            Let's switch gears and talk about a new study by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. We don't cover a lot of their stuff, but this was a neat little study. They examined the facility challenge in Milwaukie. Basically the story in Milwaukie is you've got abundance of choice, both in charters and private school choice. Families are leaving these district for the charter and private schools, and they basically looked at the utilization rates, so how utilized are each of the public school buildings in Milwaukie. All right. Five quick findings. Number 1, there are 27 buildings that are operating at below 60% capacity.

Robert:            Hmm.

Amber:            Of these, 13 are operating below 50% capacity. Many of these schools are the most at risk schools in the city. They have declining enrollments, they're the lowest performing, yaddie-yadda. They have twice as many 911 phone calls per student, which I thought was interesting little factoid.

Aylssa:             That's a heartening finding.

Amber:            Yes. Higher absentee rate than other public schools. Number 2, there are currently, and this blows my mind. There are currently 17 Milwaukie public school buildings that are completely vacant, and they have been for an average of guess how many years.

Robert:            5 years.

Aylssa:             2.

Amber:            7. 7 years.

Robert:            Out of-

Aylssa:             [inaudible 00:12:59].

Robert:            Good. Out of many buildings?

Amber:            7 years. Let me see if I had wrote that done. It cost the taxpayers about 1.6 million in utilities-

Robert:            Wait a minute-

Amber:            Just in utilities.

Robert:            1.6 million to keep-

Amber:            Since 2012.

Robert:            7 buildings.

Amber:            17.

Robert:            17. Sorry.

Amber:            17.

Robert:            Open.

Amber:            Right.

Robert:            Empty.

Aylssa:             For 7 years.

Robert:            Wow.

Amber:            For 7 years, just utilities. Who knows what other costs we're talking about. Number 3, 80% of the under-utilized schools, 22 in total, received either an F or D on their most recent state report cards. Again, just reiterating these are low performing schools that are under-utilized.

Robert:            How did the empty ones do?

Amber:            Under-utilized schools are more likely to experience enrollment decline. That's circular logic but that's true.

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amber:            The concern is that they're eventually going to be vacant. These kids are just going to keep leaving. Number 5, last one, is severe shortage of quality public schools exist in the vicinity of the under-utilized schools, so that makes sense, right? Out of 52 closest schools of those schools that are under-utilized, only 7 scored a C or better. They're surrounded by-

Robert:            Mediocrity.

Amber:            Yes.

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            At best.

Amber:            So the authors, obviously, no surprise, they recommend that private schools, the choice program, the charter schools and-

Robert:            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amber:            Be allowed to expand into these unused and under-utilized buildings. They said they could either take over the buildings-

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amber:            If they're high performing charter. They can lease out the space. They can consolidate the MPS schools and lease the leftover part of the building.

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert:            Umm.

Amber:            There's all different kinds of options here, is the point.

Aylssa:             Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.

Robert:            Yeah.

Amber:            All of which-

Robert:            They can't do that now, I assume-

Aylssa:             Yeah. What's stopping them?

Amber:            The district is not real keen on-

Robert:            They're not playing ball.

Aylssa:             [crosstalk 00:14:35] do any of this stuff.

Robert:            Yeah.

Amber:            Mm-hmm (affirmative). For reasons that we probably know.

Robert:            Sure.

Amber:            So the taxpayers are getting sucked to them.

Robert:            Yeah.

Amber:            Yeah. Milwaukie public officials are doing nothing. The author's saying can the state actually do something about this problem?

Robert:            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Aylssa:             That's fascinating. I know I taught in D.C. and obviously the co, what do they call it?

Robert:            Co-locations. It's a big problem in New York.

Aylssa:             Co-locations, in New York is a big problem as well.

Robert:            Yeah.

Aylssa:             In D.C., it's very expensive just because of legislation for charter schools to take over public school buildings.

Robert:            Right. So this-

Aylssa:             I think it's gotten easier but that's not even what's happening here.

Robert:            This isn't even co-location.

Amber:            Right.

Robert:            This is empty real estate that somebody could putting to good use.

Amber:            Empty real estate. Yeah, and they're just putting up a road block.

Robert:            Wow.

Amber:            They're not playing nicely.

Robert:            No bueno.

Amber:            In D.C., they have Building Hope.

Aylssa:             Right.

Amber:            Which is an organization that helps to fund some of these charter facilities, help them finance them. There's no organization like that in Milwaukie, which they desperately need.

Aylssa:             Yeah.

Robert:            Right. So this report is basically try to stir up some outrage to say-

Amber:            Kicking up some dust-

Aylssa:             That's a terrible problem and I hope it's able to stir up some necessary outrage to get the ball rolling there.

Amber:            Yes. We like to create outrage around here.

Robert:            I don't know what you're talking about.

Aylssa:             They don't call us the Education Gadfly for nothing.

Amber:            That's right.

Aylssa:             All right. That's all of the time that we have for this week's Gadfly Show until next week.

Robert:            I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Aylssa:             And I'm Aylssa Schwenk for The Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

Speaker 1:       The Education Gadfly Show is a production of The Thomas B. Fordham Institute located in Washington D.C. For more information, visit us online at edexcellence.net.

Mary Scott Hunter

Editor's note: This post was originally published in a slightly different form on the Daily Caller.

There is a message for Republicans in the results from the last several election cycles: We must continue to expand our base to remain the party of leadership. The platform of “No” is no longer enough. We need leaders who are able to articulate policies of upward mobility, accountability, and prudent governance.

Too often we have let the poles of our party dictate the agenda, dismissing out of hand those candidates who show the conviction to stand up for sensible ideas. Nowhere is this reality more evident than in the public debate over the Common Core education standards. Despite the fact that this important education initiative remains a state-led effort; despite the fact most parents support high academic standards; and despite the fact the standards are working, a small but vocal faction of the party would have voters and candidates believe it is political treason to support them.

No sooner had former Governors Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee announced they would consider running for president than were critics astir about how support for the Common Core would ruin their credibility with Republican voters. I have encouraged both men, as I would any other candidates who will toss their hats in the ring, not to shy away from the standards, as others have.

When I ran for reelection to the Alabama Board of Education last year, opponents made similar claims. Support for the Common...

Chances are, you’ve heard something in the past year about test mania. Everyone from superintendents to parents to retired educators has an opinion; even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested tests and test prep are dominating schools. Given all this attention, one might assume that students spend hundreds of hours each year taking tests—perhaps even more time than they spend actually learning. A recent report from Ohio Schools’ Superintendent Richard Ross paints a very different picture.

The report, required by state law, reveals that Ohio students spend, on average, almost twenty hours taking standardized tests during the school year. (This doesn’t include teacher-designed tests, but does include state tests.) Twenty hours is a good chunk of time, but when one considers that the school year in Ohio is about 1,080 hours total (it varies by district and grade level), that means testing only takes up about 2 percent of the year. (Report results show that students spend approximately fifteen additional hours practicing for tests, but this additional time only raises the total percentage to 3 percent).

Regardless of this small percentage, critics of standardized testing make some valid points. No one wants quality, in-depth learning to be pushed aside for superficial test prep, and a strong accountability system doesn’t have to mean a test-saturated system. That’s why Superintendent Ross’s report is so beneficial: While it reinforces testing’s role in monitoring and improving student achievement, it also makes recommendations for limiting the time spent taking and...

Last week, Mike Petrilli issued a “stump speech challenge” asking his fellow education wonks to come up with talking points that members of Congress might use to bolster the case for annual testing.

Be careful what you wish for, Mike. Challenge accepted. Here’s my bid:

When you and I think back on our school days, we remember football games and school dances, the high school musical, and—if we’re lucky—that unforgettable teacher who put just the right book in our hands at just the right time. One who inspired us or opened our eyes to our own potential—and what was waiting for us in the world right outside the classroom window.

What will our children remember when they think back on their school days? I fear too many will just remember taking tests.  

And that’s not right.

At the same time, I hear an awful lot of cynicism about the efforts we’ve been making in the last few years to make our schools better. Some people say that all this testing is just a big game to label our schools a failure, privatize education, demonize teachers, and line the pockets of testing companies and textbook publishers. 

And that’s not right either.

So it’s time to have an honest, no-nonsense conversation about our schools, teaching, and, yes, testing. But let me warn you in advance: If you’re involved in education—whether you’re a teacher, parent, policymaker, or union leader—you might not like some of what I’m going to say. But it’s...

Karen Vogelsang

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in The Tennessean.

My name is Karen Vogelsang, and I am the 2014–15 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. I am a supporter of the Common Core State Standards, which we have adopted as our own state standards and which are taught in classrooms across the state. I am ill at the thought that these standards could be repealed.

As Tennesseans, we sought Race to the Top funds to make sweeping changes—not only to benefit our state but, more importantly, to benefit our students.

We have data showing that our students are performing at a rate faster than any other state in the nation. We (Tennesseans, not the federal government) made decisions about how the standards would be implemented and how our educators would be trained.

As educators, we have received top-quality training from experts in the fields of math and reading, and Tennessee is the only state that has provided consistent, focused training in the standards from the state’s Department of Education on down. No one has mandated the curriculum or instructional practices teachers use in their classrooms, and districts have selected the materials they want to use to best support their students.

Critical thinking skills prevail

When I began my career as a teacher, my focus was teaching a skill so my students could pass a test. If they did, I figured I was doing a good job. I would ask questions; a student would answer correctly; I replied, “Good...

Editor's note: This testimony was presented at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions onFixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability on January, 21, 2015. It additionally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Next.

Chairman Alexander, Senator Murray, Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I would like to begin by congratulating the committee on putting the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act at the top of its legislative agenda for the 114th Congress. Nothing is more important to our nation’s future than ensuring that we provide all children with the opportunity to reach their full academic potential. Congress cannot do that on its own, but it can help by addressing the very real shortcomings of the most recent reauthorization, No Child Left Behind, and restoring the predictability with respect to federal policy that state and local officials need to carry out their work.

As you move forward with this important work, however, I would urge you not to lose sight of the positive aspects of No Child Left Behind. Above all, the law’s requirement that students be tested annually in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school has provided parents, teachers, and other citizens with detailed information about students’ performance in these foundational subjects – and therefore the extent to which they have mastered skills that are prerequisites for other educational goals. This information has called...

A Fern between Two Mikes: Testing, accountability, and the new ESEA

A fern between two Mikes: Testing, accountability, and the new ESEA

The debate over annual testing has taken center stage as Congress considers reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Assessments provide critical information for parents and legislators on student progress, but when does annual testing become overtesting? And will it survive reauthorization? Watch Fordham's Mike Petrilli and AEI's Mike McShane discuss testing and accountability in the wake of the Senate hearing on the new ESEA.

The word around town is that support for annual testing among rank-and-file members of Congress—in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle—is dangerously low. They are constantly hearing complaints from their constituents about the overuse and abuse of standardized tests, and many are eager to do something about it. We policy wonks may see the value in such tests (Brookings has been especially effective in making powerful arguments for keeping them), but parents and the public are fed up.

To be of service, here’s a crack at some “talking points” that members of Congress might use when the testing issue comes up at town hall meetings and the like. I strongly suspect that some of you can do much better. Give it a try! How would YOU explain to your fellow citizens the need for annual testing?

I understand that many of you feel strongly that there’s too much testing in our schools. You can’t throw a rock inside a school without hitting a standardized test; every time your son or daughter turns around, they are taking some test designed by some far away bureaucrat or testing company.

And you’re right. There is too much testing, and it’s taking time away from real learning—from art and music, from social studies and science, from time for play and exploration.

And there’s little doubt that all of this testing is stressing out our kids and our teachers.

Right...

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