Dangerous Legislation Signed Into Law

K-12 Testing
Congress has passed and President Bush has signed into law the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now titled the “Leave No Child Behind Act.” Increased school testing is a centerpiece of the plan, both substantively and politically.


This misguided federal mandate will most likely undermine, not improve, local school quality and student learning. A more accurate title would be the “Leave No Child Untested Act” or the “Leave Many Children Behind Act.”


The new law will push most states to expand and intensify their testing programs. This approach has historically failed to produce sustained learning improvement for all students or to close the academic gaps between minority-group and low-income students and their more advantaged peers. Low-scoring districts, lacking resources and mostly serving low-income families, will narrow curriculum and instruction to test preparation that will neither provide access to good colleges for their students nor prepare them well for effective participation in civic life. The results will perpetuate, not reduce, unequal educational opportunity.


Under the law, schools and districts will be held accountable for producing test score gains. Yet the federal government continues to fail to provide the resources needed to ensure high-quality teaching and adequate facilities. Nor is there any additional assistance to address factors that have been demonstrated to powerfully affect learning, such as nutrition, medical care, and housing.


Sanctions to be imposed on schools will be based solely on assessment results. The erratic nature of score changes means that many schools will be targeted for “improvement” based on data that is both narrow and unreliable. The actions mandated under “restructuring” have all been tried before, and most have failed to produce positive changes in schools.


The one ray of hope is that the new law does not require standardized tests to be used as measures but simply calls for “academic assessments.” A state can use local, classroom-based assessments as well as state exams to fulfill the requirements -- as some such as Maine already propose to do.


This issue’s articles provide a more detailed analysis of key provisions of the legislation, a discussion about how states can best respond to the legislation to try to promote more authentic assessment, and a list of ways testing reform advocates can respond.