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Annual Testing in ESEA Reauthorization: A Red Herring?

Charles Barone

December 18, 2014

When it comes to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli is right about one thing: "Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative John Kline, and their respective staffs have successfully freaked out sizable portions of the education-reform crowd - especially those who spend our days inside the Beltway bubble - by threatening to eliminate No Child Left Behind’s annual testing requirement.”

Petrilli thinks Kline, Alexander et al. have not yet “come to their senses”. But he "expects they will." I'm more inclined to believe that annual testing is a giant red herring.

Threatening "annual testing" could be a brilliant negotiating tactic. The more freaked out the “education-reform crowd” is about annual testing, and the more singularly they stay focused on “annual testing” to the exclusion of what are equally important issues, the easier it is for Kline and Alexander to take everything else off the table.

Whether intended or not, the signals that the Kline/Alexander team is sending are having that effect. They're also doing a whole lot more. Some, primarliy on the left, are dangling out their support for doing something that, at the end of the day, could be called "annual testing” but defining it in a way that renders Petrilli’s implicit definition meaningless. Stranger things have happened.

Continue reading "Annual Testing in ESEA Reauthorization: A Red Herring?"....

DFER Supports Bonamici-Gerlach "SMART" Act To Improve Student Assessments


By Charles Barone, DFER Policy Director

DFER commends Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Jim Gerlach (R-PA) for introducing the "Support Making Assessments Reliable and Timely" ("SMART") Act. This is the best legislation we’ve seen yet to support and improve state student assessment systems and to identify and reduce over-testing. 

Annual, statewide tests play an important role in guiding school improvement strategies and equitably directing scarce education resources to those students who most need them.

At the same time, parents, educators and policymakers are increasingly concerned about the overuse of substandard tests that are unaligned with college and career readiness, provide little additional useful information, and take precious time away from classroom instruction and personalized learning. 

The SMART Act is wisely aimed at supporting state efforts to better understand what’s working and what’s not and helping them develop better assessment systems that provide parents and the public valid information, in a timely fashion, about students’ academic progress. By preserving and strengthening high-quality annual, statewide assessments and rooting out poorly designed tests, this bill will help ensure that:

  • Tests are aligned with academic standards;
  • Evaluations of school and student performance are based only on “apples-to-apples” comparisons across all schools and districts; and,
  • Appropriate accommodations are made for students with special needs.

We see this bill as a model for framing the debate around accountability and testing when Congress, as is widely expected, takes long overdue action next year to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. We applaud Representatives Bonamici and Gerlach for the thoughtful and principled approach they brought to bear in crafting this legislation and look forward to working with her and other legislators to ensure that federal education policy maintains its 50-year commitment to advancing educational opportunity and equity.


Other organizations that have endorsed the SMART Act are: The Center for American Progress, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, the Education Trust, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the National Council of La Raza, and the National Education Association.

One page summary, from Office of Representative Bonamici: SMART Act Summary.pdf

Statement of Ranking House Education and Workforce Committee Democrat George Miller: here

Link to bill information, including text: here

Coverage by Politics K-12 at Education Week: here.

Democrats for Education Reform Applauds U.S. Department of Education Move to Improve Teacher Preparation

Washington—November 25, 2014—Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) released the following statement from Policy Director Charles Barone applauding the U.S. Department of Education’s release of its draft plan to collect better data on the performance of teacher preparation programs and to set higher standards for the federal TEACH scholarships.

“This an important first step toward overhauling the way the United States prepares teachers and raising the status and prestige of the teaching profession.

“In this era of ever-increasing international competition and higher academic standards, substandard teacher training is just as unfair to our nation's educators as it is to our students.

“The failure, over the course of decades, to remedy deficiencies in teacher training by those institutions whose job it is to select and prepare teachers constitutes educational negligence of the highest order. The U.S. Department of Education is stepping in because educational institutions have repeatedly abdicated their responsibility to set and enforce high standards for the teaching profession.

“Once states set benchmarks that draw on newly available data we should give schools appropriate time to meet them. But instead of condoning wasteful practices indefinitely, as in the past, those responsible for overseeing federal funds must issue an ultimatum: shape up or lose subsidies.

“Every field with broad social importance at some point requires and undergoes a transformation to adapt to new societal expectations and advances in knowledge. Modernization leads to qualitatively different approaches to training and pay, enhancing the prestige of the profession.  That time has now come for teaching.

“We look forward to reviewing the draft regulations over the coming days and working with the Department to improve and, ultimately, implement them.”

Correcting the Record


In today's Hechinger Report, Andre Perry draws some hasty and misinformed conclusions on where Democrats in general and DFER in particular stand on certain education issues. Perry states, for example, that "DFER makes no reference to regressive tax policy and inequitable funding formulas that keep families poor and schools under-resourced." 

Apparently, Perry didn't look very hard. To help him out, we've put together a short - illustrative, not exhaustive - reading list of commentary and advocacy on school funding from our website.
For more, go to our site search bar and enter "school funding," "equity," etc. 
High-poverty schools often have a larger share of lower-paid teachers. In dollar terms, it's not fair.  April 2011

Feds Target Education Funds Because States Won't; So Why Do Republicans Want to Enable States to Shortchange Poor Schools? July 2011.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has fought to increase education funding for the children of Philadelphia and to improve the influx of cash by proposing new taxes on cigarettes. Sadly, his proposals have been ignored by leadership at both the city and state level.

DFER Joins Advocacy and Civil Rights Groups Urging Stronger Accountability for At-Risk Subgroups of Students

Today, Democrats for Education Reform joins with the NAACP, the National Urban League, NCLR, the National Center for Learning Disabilities and others in urging the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to correct course and ensure that in the next round of waiver renewals, states must make the achievement and attainment of each group of students count in ratings for all schools.

A recent analysis of data from new state systems shows that school rating systems do not account for the achievement and growth of individual groups of students in a meaningful way. A school with an “A” rating may only be academically preparing its white or affluent students, while African-American, Latino or low-income students are not seeing the same academic progress or achievement. Moreover, 16 states and territories have received waivers but do not require interventions when individual student groups miss their graduation rate targets. 

The full letter and list of signees is here:

Waiver Coalition Letter 10.24.doc.pdf

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