Letter To The Honorable Tom Harkin, Chairman, And The Honorable Michael B. Enzi, Ranking Member, Committee On Health, Education, Labor And Pensions

Feingold Leads Senate Coalition Calling For Review Of No Child Left Behind Mandates

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold is leading a Senate coalition calling for an examination of the testing and accountability mandates required under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). With the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee holding a hearing on April 28th on standards and assessments used in America's classrooms, Feingold and six other senators wrote to the committee asking that the hearing focus on ways to improve the quality and use of standardized tests required under ESEA/NCLB. Since ESEA/NCLB was enacted over eight years ago, many teachers, administrators and parents in Wisconsin and throughout the nation have raised serious concerns about the law and its flawed testing mandates.

"For nearly a decade, I have heard concerns from teachers, administrators and parents in Wisconsin about No Child Left Behind," Feingold said. "One of the main reasons I voted against the bill was because of the law's one-size-fits-all approach to measure student achievement that has hamstrung our schools. I strongly support smart and fair accountability systems in our schools, but it is long past time the voices of concerned Wisconsinites are heard and we overhaul this law. By passing sensible reforms to NCLB we can better serve our nation's students and really help schools close the unacceptable achievement gap that continues to exist in too many schools."

In their letter, the senators urged the committee to examine ways to develop accountability systems that measure student progress, and develop systems that provide states and districts with the flexibility to use multiple measures of achievement so that students are not judged by one make-or-break, high-stakes test.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here or below.

April 26, 2010

The Honorable Tom Harkin
Chairman
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Michael B. Enzi
Ranking Member
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi:

We are pleased that the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee recently began a series of hearings on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). We look forward to working with you on the reauthorization and these hearings are an important first step toward the law's eventual reauthorization.

As you well know, the ESEA is the main federal education law governing our nation's elementary and secondary schools and addresses a wide range of issues including: testing, school improvement, teacher quality, afterschool programming, school counseling issues, the unique needs of rural schools, and other important issues. Unfortunately, the law has not been revised by Congress since the passage of NCLB in early 2002 and is sorely overdue for revision and improvement. We all strongly support accountability in our nation's schools and continued work toward closing the achievement gap that exists in far too many of our nation's cities, towns, and rural communities. But we have also heard from many of our constituents about the need to revise many aspects of the law dealing with accountability, testing, and sanctions. Improvements to these key provisions will better help schools, districts, and states meet NCLB's stated goal of closing the achievement gap and ensuring every student in America has access to a high quality education.

The core provision of ESEA/NCLB is the requirement that states test students in grades 3-8 and once in high school and that schools make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward the eventual goal of having all students proficient in reading and math. As the HELP Committee prepares for a hearing dedicated to addressing the provisions dealing with standards, assessments and accountability, we ask that you explore many of the issues our constituents have raised over the years regarding these particular provisions.

Specifically, we ask that your planned hearing focus on:

Developing Better Assessments

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the need to fund assessments that better measure critical thinking skills and that provide more timely feedback to teachers so they can improve their instruction, including performance-based assessments and formative assessments;

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the process for including these higher quality assessments in states' accountability systems;

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developing assessments that incorporate universal design elements so that the assessments can also be used to accurately assess the achievement of all students, including students with disabilities and English language learners;

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how to provide additional professional development and training to teachers so they can effectively utilize performance-based assessments, benchmark assessments, and formative assessments in their classrooms;

Designing Accountability Models That Help Schools Improve

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the need to develop accountability models that encourage schools to focus on all students, not just the so-called "bubble kids" who are on the cusp of proficiency, by designing a system that rewards schools for improvements and growth in all their students;

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creating accountability structures that allow for growth or value-added models, while still ensuring that states set ambitious but achievable goals for all students;

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discussing how the federal government can work with states and local districts to design accountability models that focus on multiple measures of student achievement to alleviate the high-stakes pressure that has been put on the annual reading and math tests under NCLB;

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how to revise NCLB's annual testing mandate and AYP provisions so that some teachers and schools do not feel such pressure to narrow the curriculum or engage in low-quality test prep strategies;

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examining the extent to which curriculum-narrowing and test preparation is happening more often in higher poverty and higher minority schools as a GAO report found last year (GAO-10-18);

Differences in School Districts Size and Composition

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the unique needs of rural and smaller school districts, including districts that serve Native American students, as well as larger urban districts, and how school district size and location affect their ability to implement NCLB's mandates including the accountability and improvement mandates;

Funding Issues

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the expense of designing accountability and assessment systems and the toll that these expenses are having on states and districts, particularly in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression;

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whether there are ways to help ensure that Congress will provide the fully authorized amounts for Title I and other education programs during the ESEA reauthorization process.

Thank you for your commitment to holding a series of hearings on the ESEA and your commitment to improving the quality of public education for all of our nation's students. While our nation has some of the finest public schools in the world, our country also has a persistent achievement and graduation rate gap that needs to be addressed if we are truly going to realize the goal of ensuring that every American student can receive a high quality public education. We also need to address our nation's persistent educational inequities so all our citizens are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow and that America remains competitive in the global 21st Century marketplace. We look forward to working with you to revise and reform the ESEA so that the accountability and assessment systems in place better help teachers, school leaders, superintendents, and parents improve the quality of education for all our students and meet these important goals.

Sincerely,

Senator Russell D. Feingold
Senator Patrick J. Leahy
Senator Claire McCaskill
Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Frank R. Lautenberg
Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand