Forum on Educational Accountability and Broader, Bolder Approach Propose NCLB Overhaul

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner, July 2009

Two recent publications add to the growing pressure to overhaul the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Eighty-four national education, civil rights, religious, disability, parent and civic organizations released one of the blueprints, Empowering Schools and Improving Learning. This report by the Forum for Educational Accountability (FEA) calls for developing tools to measure academic achievement that go beyond multiple-choice tests, providing sufficient funding so all students have an equitable opportunity to learn, ensuring better training for teachers, and focusing the law on school improvement, not punishment. A new Broader, Bolder Approach (BBA) statement calls on the federal government to strengthen its data collection, particularly through an expanded National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and for state accountability systems to include a school inspection system.


Empowering Schools explains, "Incremental changes will not fix NCLB's serious flaws and will not enable all students to succeed. To ensure high-quality learning outcomes, Congress must . . . focus on improved assistance, help ensure funding equity and adequacy, redefine accountability, and reshape the federal relationship with states and districts." Empowering Schools includes proposals to develop high-quality local and state assessments, and to replace "adequate yearly progress" and sanctions with tools for schools to strengthen their capacity to serve all children well. It builds on the 2004 Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB and more detailed FEA reports to present a comprehensive, progressive approach to federal policy. FairTest chairs the FEA.


The diverse range of signers reflects both the widespread view that the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) needs a major overhaul and extensive agreement on core components of what a new law should be. NCLB is the current version of ESEA. 


BBA's accountability document builds on their 2008 initial statement. Its approach overlaps but has distinct emphases. It focuses on expanding and improving NAEP and other federal data collection procedures.


It declares, "The federal government should cease attempting to micromanage accountability for the performance of all 100,000 schools nationwide." It also says, "ESEA reauthorization should require states to develop accountability systems… that combine appropriate standardized testing with a system of school inspections." It would leave most of the details to the states.


As with FEA, the BBA’s focus is on using assessment information, including inspections, to strengthen schools. Unlike FEA, however, it provides few details on how to better use federal funds for school improvement. Both support methods to more precisely identify needed improvements in order to better target school efforts and outside assistance. FEA is more specific in calling for federal support for including local assessments within state systems and for cutting back mandated testing. BBA says the federal government should support state experimentation. FEA joins BBA in calling for the education of the whole child and for gathering a range of data relevant to that goal. BBA also emphasizes the need for coordination across youth service agencies and schools.