WASHINGTON — Education officials in Vermont are pleased with a step taken by Congress to reduce the high-stakes standardized testing provisions under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Thursday, U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions gave preliminary approval to the Every Child Achieves Act, which would give more authority to states to decide how to evaluate their schools, and would replace the current law that has led to nearly every school in Vermont to be identified as failing.
U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who serves on the Senate committee, said the annual standardized tests taken by Vermont’s children in grades three through 11 do not fully capture what a child is learning in school.
“I think it is wrong to judge schools solely on the basis of narrow tests. We have to work on what kind of criteria we really need,” Sanders said. “What we in Vermont understand is, a kid is more than a test. We want kids to be creative. We want kids to be critical thinkers. We also want schools held accountable for factors other than test scores, including how they meet the challenges of students from low-income families.”
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act — commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind and signed into law in 2001 — calls for annual testing of math and science skills. Every year, a greater percentage of students are needed to pass the tests in order for a school to meet adequate yearly progress, or AYP.
By 2014, the AYP bar had been raised so high that a single student who does not meet proficiency standards will cause the student’s entire school to be identified as low performing. No Child left Behind includes a provision in which a state can receive a waiver from the high standards, as long as the state agrees to use standardized the scores to evaluate teachers.
Vermont is one of a small handful of states who did not seek out a waiver. As a result, nearly every school in the state has been identified as low performing.
In August, the State Board of Education sent a letter to Congress requesting provisions outlined in the Every Child Achieves Act: more flexibility to evaluate the state’s education system, without placing so much emphasis on standardized testing.
“Although the federal government is encouraging states to use scores for teacher, principal and school evaluations, this policy direction is not appropriate,” the letter reads, noting that standardized tests do not measure other skills called for the by the state’s Education Quality Standards, such as “global citizenship, physical and health education and wellness, artistic expression and transferable 21st-century skills.”
Friday, Stephan Morse, chairman of the State Board of Education, welcomed the news that Congress is looking at a replacement for No Child Left Behind.
“We are encouraged by what the senator is doing and we are encouraged by the new direction they are taking,” Morse said.
Agency of Education Sec. Rebecca Holcombe is also encouraged by the steps being taken by Congress.
“If this bill becomes law, Vermont should have the flexibility to ensure greater equity of opportunities for all students, to ensure all our students are sufficiently supported to reach their full potential, and to ensure all educators are engaged and supported in professional learning and improving instruction,” Holcombe said. “While the proposed bill still requires annual testing, there is an opportunity for states such as Vermont to create innovative assessment systems that work for their needs.”