No Child Left Behind Reform: What's the Alternative?

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner - October 2007

The multi-organizational Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), which FairTest chairs, proposes a major overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind law. FEA proposals, if adopted, would create a law focused on assistance and improvement, not sanctions, and on attainable but significant rates of improvement. It would use multiple sources of evidence of student learning and school progress, including local assessments, to evaluate schools.

The FEA based its plan on the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, signed by 140 national education, civil rights, religious, disability, parent, civic and labor organizations, representing 50 million Americans. FEA has issued two major reports and submitted detailed recommendations to Congress (on the web at These address the mandate that all children score proficient by 2014, "adequate yearly progress," the amount of testing, the reliance on standardized tests, sanctions, and improvement. In summary, FEA calls for:
Educationally Helpful Assessments:
  • Provide support to states and districts to develop high-quality local assessments. These can include classroom, school and district tests; extended writing assignments; projects; performances; exhibitions; collected samples of student classroom work; and portfolios or learning records.
  • Require fewer but higher quality assessments. Current law mandates annual reading and math tests in grades 3-8 plus once in high school, as well as science tests in three grades. Instead, FEA endorses statewide reading, math and science assessments once each in elementary, middle and high school.
Rational Expectations for Improvement:
  • Hold schools accountable for implementing systemic changes, including professional development and family support, which can produce significant improvements in education.
  • Use multiple indicators, including local assessments in multiple subjects, and graduation and grade promotion rates - not just test scores in two subjects - to evaluate schools. Combine the indicators into one composite, weighted index - not a series of separate hurdles.
  • Use growth measures that track learning gains of individual students and incorporate multiple sources of evidence.
  • Continue to report outcome data by demographic groups.
  • Establish expected rates of improvement in learning, using multiple indicators, that are based on gains actually attained by significant numbers of schools serving low-performing students. For example, within five years all Title I schools should reach the rate of improvement now reached by the Title I school now at the 65th percentile when ranked by rate of improvement.
Support Instead of Punishment:
  • Remove most NCLB sanctions, including the diversion of classroom funds to mandated supplemental services (tutoring), school transfers, "restructuring," governance changes, and privatizing control of schools.
  • Use federal and state funds equal to 40% of Title I allocations to strengthen locally-controlled professional development, parental involvement and family support.
  • Require monitoring and interventions to provide more intensive and tailored assistance to schools that have difficulty implementing systemic changes or are unable to meet the required rates of improvement after five years.
  • To expand and equalize educational opportunity, fully fund ESEA and fund a significant share of the improvements called for by FEA.
Taken together, these recommendations would overhaul the federal law so it would support positive change rather than reduce schooling to test preparation.