FairTest's letter to U.S. House education staff in response to a letter from Education Committee Chair George Miller

Date: July 11, 2007

    From: Monty Neill, Co-Executive Director, National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest); Chair, Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA)
    To: House education staff
    Re: Chairman Miller's letter on NCLB to first year members of Congress
    The education, civil rights and other organizations that have signed the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB and are active in the Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA) are pleased to see that the House Education Committee will be taking up many of the key issues surrounding NCLB, per Mr. Miller's letter to first year members of Congress.
    Basing this analysis on the Joint Statement (now signed by 137 national education, civil rights, religious, disability, civic and labor organizations representing more than 50 million Americans) and the FEA legislative proposals, we hope that members of the Committee and Congress will consider the following points as they work to re-authorize the law:
    1. Growth models: Adopt the Joint Statement's recommendation on growth models: "Replace the law's arbitrary proficiency targets with ambitious achievement targets based on rates of success actually achieved by the most effective public schools." FEA legislative recommendations and the report of the Expert Panel on Assessment specify how to accomplish this. (All "growth models" approved to date by the U.S. Department of Education are limited by the requirement of 100% proficiency by 2014 and by "Adequate Yearly Progress"; this should not be the case in a reauthorized law.)
    2. Multiple sources of evidence (measures) and local assessments: Adopt the Joint Statement recommendation on multiple measures: "Help states develop assessment systems that include district and school-based measures." FEA and the Expert Panel on Assessment report provide details on how to do so. Multiple measures and local assessments are already permitted under NCLB. For example, Nebraska's system for accountability, which includes only local, state- approved assessments, has received provisional approval from the U.S. Department of Education, the current status of most states. Though the law need not be changed to allow such a system - and should not be changed to limit such systems - financial support must be provided to help states develop locally-based assessment systems that include multiple kinds of assessments. Such efforts should focus on assessments that first help teachers to teach better, and secondly contribute, when they are technically adequate, to accountability information.
    3. Growth and multiple measures: The Joint Statement supports combining growth models and multiple, largely local, measures. The FEA legislative recommendations and the Expert Panel report specify ways this can be done. Growth models make sense, but if they do not include multiple sources of evidence, they will have the same failings as current statewide standardized tests - failure to assess higher order learning, measuring a limited slice of the curriculum, and fostering narrow teaching to the test.
    4. Improve test quality: A new law should direct funding toward assessments that help improve teaching and learning (as in point 2, above). Annual statewide tests do not and cannot do much on that, while "interim" or "benchmark" mini-tests share the failings of state exams noted in point 3.
    5. Flexible interventions: This is a good idea, but FEA recommends that schools be held accountable for implementing systemic reforms; targeted and intense assistance should be given to schools unable to implement locally guided systemic reforms and/or are not making sufficient progress (see FEA recommendations). This connects to Mr. Miller's point on improving the teaching force, since high-quality professional development (and the use of high-quality classroom assessments) improves teaching and learning - though his points do not refer to professional development beyond mentoring.
    6. Improved assessments for English language learners and students with disabilities: The FEA's Expert Panel on Assessment has detailed recommendations, under Principle III, for improving the assessment of these students. Multiple forms of assessment are also essential for these children. We strongly support continuing to include all children in accountability systems, but in appropriate and educationally sound ways.
    7. Funding: The Joint Statement says, "Fully fund Title I to ensure that 100 percent of eligible children are served," and "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 the law at those levels without reducing expenditures for other education programs." Those costs include developing local assessment systems and professional development.

8. Decrease the testing burden: Mr. Miller's letter did not address this issue. The Joint Statement says, "Decrease 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." One method to accomplish this is to delete the NCLB requirement to expand testing to grades three through eight.

Members of the Education Committee should stand firm in seeking these changes to NCLB. I and the members of the FEA are ready to work with you to ensure these positive changes are included in the reauthorization.

o The Joint Statement, the FEA legislative recommendations, the FEA report Redefining Accountability and the Expert Panel report Assessment and Accountability for Improving Schools and Learning, are all available at www.edaccountability.org. The FEA is a working group from among the signers of the Joint Statement, including FairTest.

Note: For a copy of Rep. Miller's original letter, click here.