3 Heads Up On School Testing And ESEA

Education news is a buzz with talk of the federal government taking up the issue of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The issue will continue to be a hot one over the months to come, so here are three “heads up” on the conversation surrounding it:

Heads Up #1
I caught an interview on NPR’s morning radio the other day with Anya Kamenetz, the author of the book, The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing, but You Don’t Have to Be.

In it she outlines the changes all schools have felt since the years that No Child Left Behind introduced high stakes testing for schools across the country.

In a separate article, Kamenetz give suggestions on alternatives to high-stakes testing.

1. Samplings
2. Stealth Assessments
3. Multiple Measures
3a. Social and Emotional Skills Surveys
3b. Game based assessments
3c. Performance and Portfolio-based assessments
4. Inspections

Her point seems to be that accountability can still be provided in smaller doses rather than in forcing every child into testing marathons.

Heads Up #2
At the same time, the Senator Lamar Alexandar is ramping up the conversation about the reauthorization of ESEA (formerly known as No Child Left Behind) with the release of an ESEA reauthorization discussion draft.

In this cheat-sheet of the proposed bill by Alyson Klein, you can see that the recommended changes would reduce the number of high stakes tests as well as reduce the entitlements schools receive.

Heads Up #3
And finally, the NASSP, the National Association of Secondary Principals, and NAEP, the National Association of Elementary Principals, have come out with letters to Congress to add the voices of school leaders to the conversation along with other associations.

The Challenge Ahead
In the months ahead, multiple parties and interest groups (journalists, politicians, testing companies, school associations, civic organizations, parent groups) will add their voices to what they believe should be happening in schools. And law makers will bring these conversations back to their communities for feedback.

In the best light, we can hope that some sensible compromises can be made to provide sensible accountability to schools while also alleviating unnecessary pressure on students and schools that proves counterproductive to learning.

In the worst light, by the time all interest groups have had their go at pending legislation, schools may once again be dealing with implementing mandates others have created for them.

Keeping Perspective
In all the talk of how government oversight provides accountability to schools, it helps me to keep in mind three priorities important in any discussion about school improvement:

1. Providing the safest possible settings where students can be challenged in problem solving/critical thinking and prepared for their next level of learning and life.

2. Recruiting/maintaining highly dedicated, passionate, qualified teachers who are rewarded with competitive wages and benefits.

3. Enforcing reasonable accountability while protecting students and teachers from regulations that pit meaningful learning against high-stakes testing pressures.

At first glance, the ESEA draft proposal seems to address the third priority while ignoring the first and second.

Providing safe learning environments, recruiting awesome educators, and enforcing reasonable accountability must be priorities pushed at the local and state levels because they may not be coming from the ESEA reauthorization.

Positive changes can still happen in spite of any new federal legislation, and we should add our voices to the discussion.

But as we do, you can’t forget that our day-to-day choices and decisions at the school-level will still have the biggest affect on the best environment created for our students.

Now It’s Your Turn
If you’re interested in keeping updated or reaching out to your own representatives, school leaders can check out the Principal’s advocacy website.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker