Accountability Arizona Betsy DeVos Education Reform Every Student Succeeds Act NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Standardized Testing

DeVos Continues D.C.’s Mad Obsession with Standardized Testing

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Betsy DeVos’ team warned Arizona that it could lose $340 million in federal funding if it persists in offering options to students taking standardized tests. The state has to pick one test for high school students—either the state test, SAT or ACT-or it may lose Title 1 funding for disadvantaged students.

Leave aside the fact that the SAT and the ACT are designed for college admission, not as a high school accountability test. Leave aside the fact that all standardized tests are normed on a bell curve to produce “winners” and “losers” and are completely misaligned as high school tests of competency. Leave aside that using these two commercial tests is a multimillion dollar windfall for two private testing corporations.

The federal government should not be holding any state hostage over its decision about how or whether to use certain tests. It should not threaten to withhold funding for the neediest students to force states to do what the U.S. Department of Education or Congress prefers. Congress should use its powers to protect the civil rights of students, not to interfere in how to educate students, a subjectwhereit is woefully and demonstrably ignorant.

This is a stellar example of federal control of education, which was banned by federal law in the early 1970s. Using a standardized test to judge the “success” of every student will predictably rank students by family income with only rare exceptions. The students from low-income families will cluster at the bottom, along with children English-learners and students with disabilities.

This spring, Arizona allowed its districts a choice of offering the ACT, the SAT, or the state’s traditional test, the AzMerit test, at the high school level.  ESSA allows states to offer districts the option of using a nationally-recognized college entrance exam in place of the state test, but first they must meet certain technical requirements.

For instance, states must make sure that the national recognized exam (such as the ACT or SAT) measures progress toward the state’s standards at least as well as the original state test. They also must make sure that the results of the nationally-recognized exam can be compared to the state test. And they have to provide appropriate accommodations for English-language learners and students in special education. All of this is supposed to happen before the state ever allows its districts the option of an alternate test…

The department has other, big concerns about Arizona’s testing system. The state passed a law allowing its schools a choice of tests, at both the high school and elementary level. That is not kosher under ESSA, which calls for every student in the same grade to take the same test, in most cases, Brogan wrote.

What’s more, Arizona hasn’t had a single high school test for several years. Instead, students are allowed to take one of three end-of-course math and reading/language arts tests, Brogan’s letter says. The failure to offer students the same test statewide is the reason the state has been put on high-risk status.

The state needs to pick one test for high school students, Brogan says, or it may lose federal Title I funding for disadvantaged students. It’s up to Arizona to decide whether the single test is the AzMerit, the ACT, the SAT, or something else.

Congress needs to abandon its belief that tests improve outcomes and that it can use federal funding to force uniformity of testing. NCLB proved that this theory was wrong.

After almost 20 years of failure, after a decade of flat test scores, isn’t it time for the members of the Congressional education committee to reflect on the bad ideas they have been promoting and figure out that it is time to stop compelling states to adopt harmful practices? Don’t they know they are still inhaling the toxic fumes of a failed NCLB? Or do they still believe that there was a “Texas Miracle”?

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