With Reauthorization on the Horizon, NCLB Reform Bills Pile Up

K-12 Testing
Though the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law's reauthorization may be delayed from 2007 to 2009, nearly three dozen reform bills sponsored by more than 212 House members and 33 senators have been filed over the past two years. The lengthening list of legislation filed by both Democrats and Republicans is a sign that the U.S. Congress may respond to mounting public pressure for change. Most of the bills, however, only tinker with NCLB rather than address fundamental flaws such as the dominant role played by standardized testing, the law's failure to provide help to improve schools, and its overly punitive approach.

Notable among the reform bills is the No Child Left Behind Improvements Act of 2006, H.R. 5709, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-AK). The bill, filed in late June, is closely modeled on recommendations from the National School Boards Association (NSBA). It would allow states more flexibility to use alternate assessments for students with disabilities, provided that the assessments reflect the student's individualized education program (IEP). States could also use alternate assessments for students who are not proficient in English. Scores on these assessments could count toward the determination of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Young's bill would allow the use of so-called growth models (which measure individual students' test score growth over time) to determine AYP and would lower the required test participation rate from 95% to 90%. The bill also would alter NCLB's transfer provision so that schools would be required to offer transfers only to low-achieving students who failed to meet AYP targets in the same subject for two or more years, rather than to all the students in a school.

NSBA President-Elect Norman Wooten, a school board member in Kodiak, Alaska, said the bill "would address many of the unintended consequences of the federal legislation while holding states and school districts accountable." Young, a former teacher, said of NCLB in its current form, "A one-size-fits-all approach to student achievement is not possible."

Still pending are bills previously filed by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), S. 724, and Rep. Ted Strickland (D-OH) H.R. 224, both of which call for multiple measures to be used in determining AYP (see Examiner, Spring 2005).

Strickland's bill also calls for more accurate and equitable methods to assess the academic achievement of students with disabilities and English Language Learners and for the use of growth models.

At least nine bills support use of growth or longitudinal measures to determine AYP, which are now permitted for only a handful of states on a pilot basis by the U.S. Department of Education. Such measures have gained currency in recent years and are viewed by many as more realistic and useful than NCLB's approach of comparing test results for different groups of students from one year to the next. However, they still rely on standardized test scores as the sole measure and would not ameliorate the problems of curricular narrowing and teaching to the test (see Examiner, Summer 2000).

Several pieces of legislation reflect widespread concern about the way NCLB measures the progress of disabled students. Nine make changes to the way these students are assessed, and four would allow students with disabilities to be assessed for AYP based on their IEPs. Republican Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska's bill is one of these four. Terry's bill is also significant for allowing local assessments, as is the case in Nebraska (see story, this issue).

Two bills stand out for having the largest number of cosponsors. The first, H.R. 547, the Graduation for All Act by Rep. Hinojosa (D-TX) was sponsored by 88 members of the House. It would amend the definition of AYP to require that graduation information count separately for each designated subgroup of students and that such information be reported on the required school report cards, as well as revise the definition of graduation rates. The second, H.R. 363, the Keep Our Promise to America's Children and Teachers Act (Keep our PACT Act) by Rep. Van Hollen (D-MD), attracted 86 cosponsors. It would guarantee full funding for both NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

FairTest and other groups seeking fundamental change to NCLB have argued that full funding of a poorly constructed bill is not sufficient. For federal law to have a positive influence on schools, Congress should make more significant changes in line with the recommendations in the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, now signed by 87 national education, civil rights and religious organizations.

o For more information on Rep. Young's bill, go to http://www.nsba.org/site/doc.asp?TRACKID=&VID=2&CID=90&DID=38698 and for the NSBA campaign to support this bill, see http://www.nsba.org/site/page.asp?TRACKID=&CID=1886&DID=38858.

o To track federal legislation, go to http://thomas.loc.gov/ and insert the bill number.

o The National Education Association has a list of many NCLB reform bills, with their summaries, available at http://www.nea.org/lac/esea/07nclb.html.