Action Alert from Parents Across America

Congress is moving pretty quickly now on the long-delayed reauthorization of ESEA, formerly NCLB.

First up is a Senate education committee hearing on testing and accountability on January 21, and we want to be sure our Senators know by then that we expect them to make some real changes in the test-and-punish regime of NCLB.

Most promising is a proposal from new Senate Education Committee chair Lamar Alexander, R-TN, who replaced retiring Senator Tom Harkin as the Republicans take control of the Senate. A discussion draft of his bill is here.

Sen. Alexander has offered two options for testing in a new ESEA. Option 1 offers states flexibility in how often they test and what kind of assessments they use. Option 2 would leave testing more or less as it is in the current law, except that it does not require the use of tests to evaluate teachers.

PAA has taken a position in support of Option 1. In a statement we sent today to all members of the Senate and House education committees, and to the media, we

urged support for Option 1’s proposed shift from annual to grade span testing and its flexibility regarding the choice of assessments to measure student achievement.

Here’s what you can do

1) Contact your Senator and Congresspeople today and ask for their support for grade-span testing and state flexibility in selecting appropriate assessments, Option 1 of Sen. Alexander’s ESEA bill.

2) Share your thoughts with Chairman Alexander who has asked for input on his proposal here: fixingNCLB@help.senate.gov.

3) Consider making an appointment at home with your Senators and Congresspeople this weekend if possible. Members are out from the end of the day to day until next Tuesday evening. Maybe you can run into some at MLK events!!!

3 + 1 talking points:

1) I support grade-span testing in place of annual testing requirements.
2) I support flexibility for states to choose assessments that help children and don’t force schools to become standardized test prep factories.
3) I support including a parents’ right to opt their children out of any standardized test.

+ 1) Add your own story – what has caused you to oppose high-stakes standardized testing?

Testing and civil rights

Testing politics make strange bedfellows. We may consider Democrats in Congress to be our natural allies on many issues, but when it comes to testing, we are at odds at least with those Dems who primarily listen to insider groups like Education Trust and think that Arne Duncan actually knows something about schools.

In fact, Duncan made a speech three days ago in which he stated categorically that “all students need to take annual, statewide assessments that are aligned to their teacher’s classroom instruction in reading and math in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school.”

A day before Duncan’s speech, Ed Trust and a number of national civil rights and education advocacy groups also came out in support of continued annual testing.  

One of the concerns of these groups is that children of color, children living in poverty, children with disabilities, homeless, foster and migrant children, children in detention, children still learning English, Native children, and girls as well as boys will continue to receive the short end of the educational stick if they are not tested every year.

Many of these groups acknowledge the harm done to their constituents by the misuse of standardized tests for grade retention, denial of graduation, school push-out, mass school closure and teacher firing, and other destructive practices.

What they seem unwilling to do is stand up against those practices and work toward policies that can hold responsible adults and institutions accountable without hurting children.    

PAA co-founder Julie Woestehoff has posted a paper on the PAA site, “Civil rights, discrimination and standardized testing,” which addresses this problem, and includes a link to a 2-page fact sheet on Racial Bias in Standardized Testing.

Many of our members and readers are also members of local chapters of some of the signatory groups supporting continued testing:

 The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

American Association of University Women

American Civil Liberties Union

Children’s Defense Fund

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

Easter Seals

The Education Trust

League of United Latin American Citizens

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

National Center for Learning Disabilities

National Council of La Raza

National Urban League

National Women’s Law Center

Partners for Each and Every Child

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center

United Negro College Fund

As we push for what we know is the right thing to do about testing, you may want to share these documents and your own thoughts with these groups.

MORE ON ESEA TO COME!

We will keep you posted on future Congressional ESEA hearings and topics – we will be keeping an eye on issues including expanded charter school funding, virtual learning and vouchers.

For more go to: http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/

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