The January 18, 2006 Ed Week featured a piece on FairTest and the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB

Education Week, January 18, 2006
At 4, NCLB Gets Praise and Fresh Call
to Amend It
By Andrew Trotter and Michelle R. Davis
Washington

A coalition of school, civil rights, and child-advocacy groups
handed a list of 14 recommendations for changing the federal
No Child Left Behind Act to congressional staff members at the
U.S. Capitol last week, just a day after President Bush vigorously
defended the law on its fourth anniversary.

Consequences of the law demand these "critical changes,"
Reggie Felton, the director of federal relations at the National
School Boards Association, said on Jan. 10 to more than 30 congressional
staff members.

The No Child Left Behind law, a reauthorization of the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act, was signed by President Bush on
Jan. 8, 2002, and is scheduled for reauthorization in 2007.

"We would also encourage you to use local school districts
and local communities as a base to get a sense of 'will this
work' or 'will this not work,' " Mr. Felton added.

A day earlier, Mr. Bush traveled to North Glen Elementary School
in Glen Burnie, Md., to call attention to the law's success stories.
The law calls for students to be tested in grades 3-8 and once
in high school to meet annual educational goals, or their schools
and districts could face sanctions.

'It's Working'
"I'm here today to talk about the spirit of the No Child
Left Behind Act, the evidence that says it's working, and my
deep desire to work with Congress to make sure it continues to
have the desired effect on children all across the country,"
Mr. Bush told the crowd at North Glen Elementary on Jan. 9.

The coalition aiming to alter the law hopes to influence Congress,
although eliminating the law outright is not among its recommendations.

"It's not a question of saying 'No' [to NCLB]," said
one of the coalition's leaders, Monty Neill, the executive director
of FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass.-based group that is formally
known as the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. The
group is critical of the law's use of standardized tests as its
fundamental measure of progress.

The joint effort is called the Forum on Educational Accountability,
and 67 groups have signed on to its agenda, including the National
Education Association and the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People.

Mr. Neill said the groups want to reverse NLCB-era trends toward
"narrowing the curriculum, [and] school systems pushing
out students from schools in order to boost test scores."

But President Bush stressed last week that the states design
and administer their own tests to ensure that decisions are made
on a state and local level.

"An important part of the No Child Left Behind Act is the
understanding that one size does not fit all when it comes to
public schools, and that the governance ought to be local,"
he said. "If you've noticed, I've never said the federal
government is going to tell you how to teach. That would be the
worst thing that could happen to the public school system."

Unrealistic Goal?
However, Mr. Neill also sought to highlight what he believes
is the law's unrealistic goal of having all students be "proficient"
in key subjects by the 2013-14 school year.

"Quite frankly, 100 percent proficiency by 2014 isn't happening,
and everyone knows it isn't happening," he said.

The forum's recommendations include placing less reliance on
state tests, adding flexibility to the amount and scheduling
of testing, and greatly increasing federal funding to cover the
costs of meeting the law's requirements.

These ideas are "an initial cut," with more details
to come, Mr. Neill said. "You'll note there's some vagueness
in this language. To some extent, that is papering over issues
that we haven't had to time to work through."

But the 14 recommendations have been around at least since October
2004, when they were released as a "joint organizational
statement" with 31 signatories, including FairTest, the
NSBA, the NEA, and the NAACP, all of which remain on board.

Nicole Francis-Williams, the interim director of education at
the NAACP, suggested that the forum could help spotlight the
consequences of the education law for civil rights.
"It's difficult-impossible-to take a cookie-cutter approach
to assessing a diverse population," she said.

The Achievement Gap
President Bush argued last week that the law was benefiting minority
students. He cited last year's scores from the federally sponsored
National Assessment of Educational Progress, which helps to chart
students' progress.

He cited last summer's NAEP data which, according to Mr. Bush,
showed that 4th graders "set records," for example,
in reading and mathematics in 2005. Those same test results also
showed gains in reading and math for Hispanic 4th graders, as
well as for 8th grade Hispanic and African-American students,
Mr. Bush said.

"One of our goals has got to be to … close that achievement
gap," Mr. Bush said. "And we're doing it."

Some prominent education groups are not participating in the
Forum on Educational Accountability, such as the American Federation
of Teachers, the National PTA, and the Council of the Great City
Schools.

Alexander Wohl, a spokesman for the 1.3 million-member AFT, said
the teachers' union shared many concerns with the coalition members,
but so far has decided not to join them. In part that's because
the AFT has its own campaign to improve the law, he said.

"We agree," he said, "with the efforts of this
group and the principles of this group."

-- Education Week, January 18, page 26.
-- http://www.edweek.org
-- Copyright 2006. Editorial Projects in Education, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.
-- FairTest received permission to post this article to the FairTest
website. Permission is not granted to email or otherwise redistribute
this article electronically.