January 23, 2015 12:44 pm

NPE Statement on ESEA Reauthorization and Annual Standardized Testing

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Network for Public Education calls on Congress to end the federal mandate for annual standardized testing 


Network for Public Education (NPE) calls on Congress to approve Option 1 in Senator Lamar Alexander’s working draft of “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015.” NPE supports the proposal to allow states to adopt their own State-designed academic assessment system. More specifically, we are calling for the end of the federal mandate for annual testing.


NPE believes a return to grade span testing is an important first step toward restoring standardized testing to its appropriate use in education, while still giving policy makers and elected officials a valid snapshot of what is happening in schools.  We further support Option 1’s flexibility utilizing multiple measures; and that a systematic review of actual student work will provide superior evidence of academic progress while also enriching learning and allowing teachers to better diagnose student strengths and weaknesses.


No other high-performing nation tests every student every year.   The annual high-stakes testing required under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has led to an overemphasis on and misuse of increasingly time-consuming, expensive, developmentally inappropriate, and in many cases, flawed and ambiguously phrased annual tests.  This trend has been detrimental to students, teachers, schools and communities, and has only served to benefit the companies that profit from the burgeoning testing industry.


Advocates for annual testing claim that it is needed so we can more clearly track trends over time. But the federal government already has far more reliable data that can be used to track trends through the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which has been administering tests to the states since 1992 and disaggregating the scores by race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, and English language learners. We already know that children in Massachusetts do better than children in Mississippi; what’s needed in Mississippi is not annual testing–which will not tell us anything new–but experienced educators, smaller classes, a full curriculum, and adequate resources.


Annual tests have diverted time and resources from genuine teaching and learning in schools nationwide. We have seen curriculum narrowed across the country, but especially for our nation’s most vulnerable students –children living in poverty. These are the students we need to engage most with art, music, social studies, and foreign languages, and they are the students least likely to receive a full and robust educational experience because these areas of study are not on “the test.”


These tests have penalized caring, highly educated educators who work with children in poverty, recent immigrants to this nation, and our most vulnerable special needs students. As a result, many dedicated educators have been driven out of the profession.


But most importantly, administering these tests to children every year is of no benefit to the children themselves. As research has shown, comparing students’ test scores does not improve the instruction they receive and does not increase student achievement. Numerous studies have documented the role played by high-stakes testing in exacerbating dropout rates, the school-to-prison-pipeline, and the closing of under-resourced neighborhood public schools.


High stakes standardized tests have been the norm for the last 17 years. Research has shown that they have not improved educational outcomes, and that they have actually been harmful to students, teachers and schools. As a result, far too much time and too many resources have been spent on buying and preparing for these tests. States and districts have spent hundreds of millions of dollars for test development, test prep materials, and technology and infrastructure upgrades required to facilitate new online assessments. Such spending is crippling districts already faced with slashed budgets, loss of teachers and other critical staff, as well as crumbling infrastructure.


We continue to believe that the federal government has an important role to play in education. It is imperative that ESEA continues to support and provide additional funding for low-income students and children with disabilities, to help fund nationwide preschool and to reduce class sizes.


We at NPE believe that all children should have equal educational opportunity. Not the “opportunity” to take the same standardized tests, but the opportunity to acquire necessary skills in math and language arts while still engaging in the arts, physical education, history, sciences, foreign languages, civics, and other studies.


A return to grade span testing and elimination of accountability measures tied to standardized tests will allow the nation’s public schools to reallocate resources where they are most desperately needed, and provide students with the rich educational opportunities that have been eroded during the NCLB era. A decrease in federally mandated testing will still provide policy makers sufficient data to evaluate progress in our nation’s schools and will not hinder the federal government’s crucial role in ensuring all students receive a quality and equitable education.