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Public Statements

Reform of No Child Left Behind

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. ISAKSON. Mr. President, I thank the great Senator from the State of Tennessee for his recognition and whose own record in education is quite distinguished, including his tenure as a university president at the University of Tennessee, to his leadership on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and, obviously, his service as Secretary of Education for the United States of America.

I appreciate the reference to 10 years ago when we wrote No Child Left Behind. There were nine of us, five Republicans and four Democrats, who locked ourselves up in the House Education Committee offices for about 6 weeks writing the document that became the law of the land, and it has served the country well for 20 years.

A title I provision of that is the free and reduced lunch provision, which is the main title of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and it is the main title that delivers educational entitlements, requirements, and regulations under No Child Left Behind.

The reason I am the principal sponsor of the removal--not the removal but the reform--of title I is because No Child Left Behind requirements under title 1 have worked and it is time to go to the next step. I wish to be very specific about saying it has worked.

As everyone knows, adequate yearly progress, or AYP, is the goal of title I, to see to it that every child every year is making adequate yearly progress toward improvements in reading comprehension and mathematics. When we started AYP, we knew when we wrote it that if the bill worked, it would become harder and harder and harder to reach AYP because the baseline was being built every single year.

The reason Senator Alexander talked about so many schools falling into ``needs improvement'' is because we pushed the achievement level so high that meeting AYP on a continuing and improving basis is difficult. So it is time to terminate AYP as a requirement of the bill, but it is not time to throw out the system that made it work.

Disaggregation of students, first of all, was critically important. Public education in the United States prior to the No Child Left Behind law exhibited school systems and schools that basically hid behind mean average scores or an ITBS mean average score. This comparison of ITBS test scores to other States in the Nation is an aggregation of all students' performance and an averaging of that performance. It took the eye off the ball and the individual student.

So what No Child Left Behind says is, test every student and disaggregate them by sex, race, disability, by non-English-speaking, and rate each disaggregated group by AYP. If only one school fails to make adequate progress, then the whole school goes to ``needs improvement.'' So we have a lot of schools labeled ``needs improvement'' while making the best improvement they have ever made. So it is time to end AYP, but it is not time to end disaggregation or the test scores.

The greatest accountability measure--and all of us as politicians know it--is transparency. This bill will require the transparency of all the test scores of each individual child and the transparency of each individual in each individual disaggregated group to ensure we continue to know how our kids are doing and compare them on a year-to-year basis. But we do away with ``needs improvement'' because it has served its purpose.

Now, on disaggregated groups there is one other thing the title I change does that I want to particularly emphasize on the Senate floor today. The biggest disaggregated group in terms of causing schools or systems to fall under ``needs improvement'' is those special needs children considered under IDEA or the Individuals With Disabilities Act. They are all individuals who have an individual disability that affects their academic achievement or their ability to learn.

When we passed IDEA in 1978, if I remember correctly, through Public Law 94-192, we dictated that we would give special emphasis and training to those special needs kids and try and identify their special needs and meet them within the public education system. When No Child Left Behind disaggregated them into a single group and tested them, we tested 98 percent of them with the same paper and pencil test. These are kids with a plethora of disabilities that one single test could not possibly meet. We gave a 2 percent cognitive waiver, disability waiver, so they could have an alternative assessment for up to 2 percent of the students, but 98 percent had to take the same test.

This reform of the IDEA portion of title I of No Child Left Behind simply says this: Every year, at the beginning of the school year, when the parent and the teacher and the school meet to put out the individual education plan, the IAP for that student, the parent, the teacher, and the school will determine what the assessment vehicle is that best measures the assessment of that child--not a single, one-size-fits-all, paper-and-pencil test. That is going to ensure that IDEA students get the individual attention they deserve and the measurement against the individual disabilities they have that is appropriate as approved by their parents, their teacher, and their school, and it will make a remarkable difference for IDEA kids.

I am very proud of that provision and the flexibility it gives to the system to assess appropriately rather than force a one-size-fits-all test against 98 percent of our children with disabilities.

So to repeat what I said at the beginning----

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's 5 minutes has expired.

Mr. ISAKSON. It is a good time for me to repeat what I said at the beginning. I am proud to be building on the success of No Child Left Behind, and I am proud that Senator Alexander has taken leadership on this committee to move forward on this reauthorization of IDEA and No Child Left Behind.

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I thank Senator Isakson for his leadership in education in the State of Georgia and on this bill.

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