The controversial education law known as No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization, and amid the nuances under debate one question stands out: Will pressures from the left and right force the federal government to abandon its annual, statewide testing requirements?
When enacted into law in 2002, NCLB had widespread, bipartisan backing including support from President George W. Bush and Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy . Nonetheless, it had numerous creaky provisions, not least of which were the testing provisions that held schools accountable for student achievement.
Its measure of whether a school was failing was too bizarre for most people to understand and placed schools with the most challenged students at a disadvantage. Other mandates were equally meaningless. Giving students at failing schools a choice among other schools in their district simply shuffled children around the city. Requiring after-school programs did nothing to improve the school day itself.
All such provisions were potentially up for revision in 2007, but Congress couldn't agree on how to bring the law up to date. As a fix, Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, waived for most states the law's most onerous provisions. Still, the administration continues to support testing every student in math and reading in grades three through eight and again in high school.
Now, the new Republican Congress is making another effort to revise NCLB,and tests are in the crosshairs. Unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles, oppose them for fear the data will be used to evaluate teachers. Conservatives fear tests will be used to impose "progressive" Common Core standards, which are backed by the White House and designed to set the same broad expectations for all U.S. students.
Civil rights groups, on the other hand, are fighting to keep testing in place. "Now is not the time to make a U-turn in holding states and school districts accountable for providing a quality education to all children," declared Nancy Zirkin, executive director of the influential Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 20 organizations.