Ed., Civil Rights Groups Call for NCLB Changes

K-12 Testing

In late October 2004, nearly 30 national civil rights and education organizations sent to Congress a “Joint Statement on No Child Left Behind Act,” concluding that NCLB’s “emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement.”


The statement marks the first time major civil rights and education groups have united in a common call for substantial changes to the federal law.


The statement’s signers include the Children’s Defense Fund, NAACP, ASPIRA, National Urban League, League of United Latin American Citizens, National School Boards Association, American Association of School Administrators, National Education Association, Council for Exceptional Children, Advancement Project, National Association for Bilingual Education, and Citizens for Effective Schools. FairTest staff initiated and chaired the meetings that produced the statement.


The Bush administration and some supporters have argued that NCLB is, in effect, a civil rights law as well as an education law, since it calls for ending what Secretary of Education Rod Paige has termed “educational apartheid.” While supporting NCLB’s stated goal of ensuring high-quality education for all children, release of the statement shows that major civil rights as well as education and disability groups recognize that the law will not succeed without major changes.


The statement supports a strong federal role in improving education, but notes that NCLB is causing serious harm to education, including: “over-emphasizing standardized testing, narrowing curriculum and instruction to focus on test preparation rather than richer academic learning; over-identifying schools in need of improvement; using sanctions that do not help improve schools; inappropriately excluding low-scoring children in order to boost test results; and inadequate funding.”


The statement calls for changes in testing mandates and in the “adequate yearly progress” requirements, including:

 • shifting from “arbitrary proficiency targets” to “achievement targets based on rates of success actually achieved by the most effective public schools.”
• using measures of student growth in achievement;
• providing “a comprehensive picture of students’ and schools’ performance by moving from an overwhelming reliance on standardized tests to using multiple indicators of student achievement in addition to these tests.”
• helping “states develop assessment systems that include district and school-based measures in order to provide better, more timely information about student learning.”
• decreasing “the testing burden on states, schools and districts by allowing states to assess students annually in selected grades in elementary, middle schools, and high schools,” rather than the mandated requirements to test in grades 3-8 inclusive as well as once in high school.


The statement also emphasizes the need to shift from punishments to improving school capacity to provide every child with a high-quality education:

• “Replace sanctions that do not have a consistent record of success with interventions that enable schools to make changes that result in improved student achievement,” and allow improvement plans sufficient time to work before requiring new actions.
• Enhance local and state capacity to implement comprehensive changes that will increase the knowledge and skills of administrators, teachers, families, and communities to support high student achievement.
The shift from a focus on tests and sanctions to use of improved assessments that support better teaching and stronger learning will require adequate financial support. The statement calls on the federal government to:
• “Raise authorized levels of NCLB funding to cover a substantial percentage of the costs that states and districts will incur to carry out these recommendations;” and
• “Fully fund Title I to ensure that 100 percent of eligible children are served.”
The organizations agreed to continue working together to promote these changes in Congress and to develop more detailed proposals for implementing the changes.
A The full statement and list of signers can be found on FairTest’s web site at www.fairtest.org.