State Legislators and Governors Object to Fed. Testing Mandate

K-12 Testing

Arguing that “expediency has triumphed over good policy” and “principles of federalism were ignored,” the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) sent a strong letter opposing the current versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization to the leadership of the conference committee appointed to resolve differences between House and Senate. The National Governors Association also sent a letter raising concerns.


The NCSL letter defended state-mandated testing programs but argued that the additional requirements in ESEA would undermine those tests, many of which were developed in response to the 1994 version of ESEA. The state legislators specifically opposed a federal requirement that states test every child every year from grades 3 - 8 in reading in math, stating there is “no convincing evidence that an effective accountability system must include annual testing in multiple subjects.” Of the states scoring in the top ten in either reading or math at grades 4 and 8 on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, only one tests annually in grades 3 - 8.


The 1994 ESEA reauthorization called for a mix of state and local assessments; 17 states now require such a mix. The plan to emphasize more state-level state testing, pushed hard by President Bush, would undermine these plans. Moreover, under the pending legislation, the federal government would only fund a small portion of the costs of developing and administering the new tests. Only 15 states now test in reading and math in grades 3 - 8.


NCSL criticized the plan to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” the cornerstone of accountability, though the formulas passed by the two houses have been recognized as impossible to implement (see Examiner, Summer 2001). The letter also opposed the requirement to disaggregate data by race, low-income status, language and special needs because Congress fails to provide funding for the computer systems and technical support to carry out this task. It also charged the federal government with “meddling in the governance of state K-12 education systems.”


With state budgets reeling from the economic downturn, the NCSL letter pointed out that attempts to comply with new federal mandates will further strain education budgets and imperil ongoing state reforms. Thus, NCSL leaders concluded, they cannot support the proposed ESEA reauthorization.


The National Governors Association (NGA) letter expressed hope that in resolving problems around testing and accountability, the conference committee would consult with the governors. “Without conference negotiations yielding results that are workable and effective for states, successful education reform is not achievable,” they said, implicitly rebuking Congress for ignoring the states in developing policies that affect public schools.


The NCSL and NGA letters are politically important because they represent the views of elected officials from constituencies similar to those Members of Congress represent. Moreover, many U.S. Representatatives and Senators formerly served as state legislators or governors.


The best solution for the moment would be for Congress to leave the 1994 ESEA testing provisions essentially unchanged. Then, reformers can push for a complete overhaul of assessment and its role in school improvement both at the state level and in the next authorization of ESEA.


• NCSL letter:

• NGA letter: (click on letters).