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House Education Committee Approves Petri Initiatives

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Legislation to reform the federal government's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law was approved today by the House Education Committee. The bill, which next goes to the full House for consideration, includes two major provisions championed by Rep. Tom Petri, who is a senior member of the committee.

One provision would allow states to use "computer adaptive" tests to fulfill their NCLB testing requirements. A second initiative would help to create teacher and principal training academies.

Adaptive Tests

With adaptive tests taken on computers, the questions are adjusted to zero in on the student's level of competence. If a student answers a question correctly, the computer then presents a question of increased difficulty. If the student answers incorrectly, the next question will be easier.

"With current testing you pretty much learn whether or not a student is mastering the material at the proper grade level. But with adaptive testing, you can find out how much ahead or behind the student is, which areas he or she is particularly strong or weak in, and by how much. And the results are instantly available," Petri said.

Currently, when fulfilling NCLB requirements, the U.S. Education Department will accept adaptive tests only when they test solely within the student's grade level. Petri's proposal would allow tests to ask questions appropriate to other grade levels if the student taking the test is proving to be sufficiently ahead or behind of his or her grade's requirements.

Even though the most effective adaptive tests do not satisfy NCLB requirements, school districts nationally, and many in Petri's congressional district, are already "speaking with their wallets" by spending scarce resources to use adaptive tests, such as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) developed by the non-profit Northwest Evaluation Association, because they provide valuable information that the federally mandated assessment does not. Educators report that the immediate, personalized results are valuable in motivating and engaging students to do better.

In 2009, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) announced plans to change a nearly two-decades-old statewide test used to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. That assessment, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations (WKCE), will be phased out as new assessments at the elementary and secondary levels are developed.

These new assessments will likely be computer adaptive, allowing for immediate and detailed information about individual students' progress. The provisions included by Rep. Petri in the NCLB reform bill would give Wisconsin the flexibility to use these new assessments to their full potential.

Petri became convinced of the value of adaptive tests as he met with students, parents and educators in the 6th District.

Teacher and Principal Training

Petri's teachers and principals provisions in the NCLB reform bill would encourage the growth of teacher and principal training academies that are held accountable for producing effective graduates in exchange for freedom from unnecessary regulations and bureaucracy.

"Research continues to confirm what we know intuitively, which is that effective teaching is a critical component of student success," Petri said. "Despite this, many teachers report feeling ill-prepared for their work in the classroom. Through these reforms we are trying to harness the power of innovation to create teacher and principal preparation programs that are more effective and more responsive to the needs of educators."

One leading study found that 61 percent of education school alumni reported that schools of education did not adequately prepare their graduates for the classroom. Principals surveyed as part of that study also gave schools of education low marks, with only 30 percent reporting that such schools prepare teachers very well or moderately well to meet the needs of students with disabilities, and only 16 percent reporting at those levels for students with limited English proficiency. It is well known that nearly half of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years.

Petri's provisions largely mirror the GREAT Teachers and Principals Act which was first introduced in the Senate last year by a bipartisan coalition led by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). Sens. Bennet and Alexander were later successful in passing an amendment to the Senate's NCLB reform legislation incorporating provisions from the GREAT Act. The amendment passed by unanimous consent in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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