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Testimony of Reg Weaver




Submitted to the Committee on
Education and the Workforce

U.S. House of Representatives

July 27, 2006

Good morning Chairman McKeon, Congressman Miller, and Members of the Committee.

Thank you for the opportunity to join you this morning and share the views of the 2.8 million members of the National Education Association (NEA).

NEA is the largest professional association in the country, representing public school educators -- teachers and education support professionals, higher education faculty, educators teaching in Department of Defense schools, students in colleges of teacher education, and retired educators across the country. While our membership is diverse, we have a common mission and values based on our belief that a great public school is a basic right for every child.

Our members go into education for two reasons -- because they love children and they appreciate the importance of education in our society. We want all students to succeed. Our members show up at school every day to nurture children, to bring out their full potential, to be anchors in children's lives, and to help prepare them for the 21st century world that awaits them. It is their passion and dedication that informs and guides NEA's work as we advocate for sound public policy that will help our members achieve their goals.

NEA Principles for Great Public Schools

Today's hearing focuses primarily on the use of growth models in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability framework. Before I address that specific point, however, I would like to take a moment to make a few broader points about NEA's principles and goals for ensuring great public schools.

NEA and its members have long supported the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). During the last reauthorization of ESEA, we supported the laudable goals of No Child Left Behind -- closing achievement gaps, raising overall student achievement, and ensuring all students have a qualified teacher. We also supported a number of specific elements in the new law, including the targeting of Title I funds to the neediest schools and students; disaggregation of test data by subgroup; and programs for dropout prevention, after-school learning opportunities, and math and science education. We continue to support all of these elements.

NEA did not at any time oppose annual testing nor did we oppose passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. We did, however, make clear to Congress our objection to accountability systems based solely upon test scores. We also made clear that any tests used in an accountability system had to be valid and reliable, aligned with the curriculum, and designed to inform instruction, and that the system had to allow for accurate and fair measurement of test results.

During the debate on No Child Left Behind, we suggested two ways to craft a more workable, accurate, and fair accountability system. First, we suggested the use of multiple measures of student achievement and school quality to determine school effectiveness. Second, we suggested creating accountability systems that not only required certain proficiency levels, but that also measured growth in student achievement over time. We supported, and continue to support, these polices because, while we deeply believe that all children can learn, we know that not all children learn at the same rate or in the same way.

Let me be perfectly clear that our criticisms during initial debate and our continuing expressions of concern over implementation of the law are not rejections of the goals of No Child Left Behind. Nor do they reflect a desire to do away with the law.

In fact, I have made closing the achievement gaps one of NEA's highest goals. It is not only something about which I care personally; it is the right thing to do. As someone who taught for 30 years, I know that change doesn't happen overnight. But, I also know that if we are to achieve the change we seek, we cannot ignore the experiences of those working in our classrooms every day. Rather, we must translate the lessons we learn from our nation's educators into sound, workable policies that will help us meet our goals.

I just returned from NEA's annual meeting where almost 9,000 delegates voted on NEA's priorities for ESEA reauthorization. They didn't vote to repeal or do away with NCLB. Instead, they voted on a comprehensive set of proposals designed to fix what's wrong with the law and add to it the kinds of initiatives that will make our common goals a reality. A copy of that report is attached as Appendix I. I hope it will help guide the committee as you approach reauthorization.

Our report spells out what we believe to be the seven key components of a great public school:

  • Quality programs and services that meet the full range of all children's needs so that they come to school every day ready and able to learn;

  • High expectations and standards with a rigorous and comprehensive curriculum for all students;

  • Quality conditions for teaching and lifelong learning;

  • A qualified, caring, diverse, and stable workforce;

  • Shared responsibility for appropriate school accountability by stakeholders at all levels;

  • Parental, family, and community involvement and engagement; and

  • Adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding.

The priorities detailed in the report are very consistent with the views of our general membership. In fact, our recent member poll found:

  • 57 percent of our members want major changes to No Child Left Behind, 21 percent want minor changes, 17 percent favor repeal, and just 4 percent want to keep the law as it is;

  • 95 percent of our members want the Association to be active in working to change the law, while only 4 percent disagree;

  • 85 percent of our members believe there is too much reliance on standardized testing.

Our members rated highest the following proposals to improve NCLB:

  • Use multiple measures instead of just tests (71% strongly favor);

  • Measure student achievement over time instead of just the day of the test (70% strongly favor);

  • Ensure that employee rights under contracts and laws are respected (65% strongly favor);

  • Fully fund mandates (64% strongly favor);

  • Restore the class size reduction program (63% strongly favor).

Growth Models and Effective Accountability Systems

I would now like to turn to the focus of today's hearing, the use of growth models in measuring student progress and school effectiveness. As I have stated, we believe that accountability systems should be based upon multiple measures, including local assessments, teacher-designed classroom assessments collected over time, portfolios and other measures of student learning, graduation/dropout rates, in-grade retention, percentage of students taking honors/advanced classes and Advanced Placement exams, and college enrollment rates. We strongly believe that the current one-size-fits-all system is unacceptable and that states need the flexibility to design systems that produce results, including deciding in which grades to administer annual statewide tests.

Accountability systems should reward success and support educators to help students learn. To this end, any improved accountability system should allow for use of growth models and other measures that assess student learning over time and recognize improvement on all points of the achievement scale. These measures should then be used as a guide to revise instructional practices and curricula, provide individual assistance to students, and tailor appropriate professional development for teachers and other educators. They should not be used to penalize teachers or schools.

We applaud Secretary Spellings' decision to pilot a growth model project. Her decision signaled that she has heard what our members have had to say, and we thank her for that. We also applaud her decision to allow states to propose their own growth models for peer review, rather than prescribing a certain type of model. This flexibility was particularly welcome given that all states were testing prior to enactment of NCLB and 15 states were already testing annually in grades three though eight. We have recently completed a policy brief on the growth model pilot program and the process used by the Department of Education to approve proposals by two states (NC and TN). This policy brief is attached as Appendix II to my statement.

Our members believe that measuring student growth over time will be more helpful than the current snapshot approach, which measures student achievement on one day out of the year. A growth model approach will allow for a more accurate reflection of student learning and will help inform instruction.

I taught middle school science for 30 years. If someone had told me that my students would be given a state standardized test in the spring and that I would not receive the results of those assessments in time to make any instructional adjustments, I would have seriously questioned the logic of the central testing office. If someone had then told me that my class the next year would be tested in the spring and that their scores would be compared to my students from last year, I would have said there was something inherently wrong with the system.

An accountability system designed to measure performance cannot compare apples and oranges. As a science teacher, I know that such a system simply will not yield any meaningful data. The children I teach in any given year will have completely different educational needs than the children I teach in the following year. NCLB fails to recognize that children learn in different ways and at different rates. It fails to recognize that children are human beings, not widgets in a factory, and that teaching them is both an art AND a science.

One of our members from Rockford, IL, has noted the illogical consequences of the current system:

"Jackson Elementary School teachers worked tirelessly in the first year of corrective action to bring up scores to the level set by NCLB. The students made incredible gains, unfortunately they missed AYP by less than one percent. This translates to one or two students that made gains, but not enough to bring them to the prescribed level. Therefore, they are in their second year of corrective action and labeled as a failing school."

The current system simply fails to provide useful, timely data for diagnosing learning problems and facilitating instructional changes. Rather, students who are tested in one grade move on to the next grade, and their new teacher receives their test results -- results that have virtually no relevance to the choices that new teacher will make in instructional strategies.

Not only is the current underlying system flawed, but implementation is also troubling. NCLB requires assessments to be built upon states' content standards, which in turn are to be aligned with statewide assessments. Yet, four and a half years into the law, only ten states have received full approval from the Department of Education for their content standards and assessment systems. To educators, this translates as a lack of interest in what is tested and whether the test content has actually been taught in the classroom. It appears that the goal is simply to administer tests and assign accountability labels. This is demoralizing to educators and contradictory to sound educational practice.

NEA is not alone in supporting an improved accountability system that allows for use of more accurate measures. We have led an effort to develop consensus on a broad set of principles for ESEA reauthorization. To date, 87 organizations have endorsed these principles, one of which calls for use of growth models as part of an accountability framework (See Appendix III for the complete Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB with the list of signatories). In addition, nine bills that would allow use of growth models are currently pending in Congress. Some of those bills were introduced by members of this committee, including Representatives McCollum, Wu, and Andrews. Several other committee members, including Representatives Grijalva, Ryan, and Woolsey, have cosponsored bills that would allow states to utilize growth models.

Governors and state legislators have also called on a bipartisan basis for more flexibility to use growth models. The National Governors Association's (NGA) proposals for the ESEA reauthorization, issued in March 2006, state that, "Maximum flexibility in designing state accountability systems, including testing, is critical to preserve the amalgamation of federal funding, local control of education, and state responsibility for system-wide reform."

Similarly, the National Conference of State Legislatures issued a report in February 2005 calling on Congress to make substantial changes to the law. The report states:

"Administrators at the state, local and school levels are overwhelmed by AYP because it holds schools to overly prescriptive expectations, does not acknowledge differences in individual performance, does not recognize significant academic progress because it relies on absolute achievement targets, and inappropriately increases the likelihood of failure for diverse schools."

By allowing inclusion of growth models in NCLB's accountability system, Congress would not have to abandon the requirement that all students read and complete math problems on grade level. Quite the opposite is true. We believe that growth models hold greater promise to demonstrate whether a student is learning. They would provide a more accurate measure by giving schools credit both for moving a child from below basic to basic as well as moving a child from proficient to advanced. They would also offer a way to recognize highly effective schools that have an influx of students who are not performing at grade level.

Growth models will also help overcome the all-or-nothing approach of measuring Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Currently, a typical school has to meet 37 criteria to make AYP. A school that falls short on just one of the 37 is treated in the same manner as a school that fails all 37 criteria. (See tables below.) Growth models that offer more common sense ways to measure student achievement, in particular for students with disabilities and English Language Learners (ELL), will ameliorate this problem.

Current AYP Failure School: Miss 1 of 37

  Reading 95% Math 95% Other indicator
All Students Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Black/African American Yes Yes Yes Yes  
Hispanic Yes Yes Yes Yes  
Native American Yes Yes Yes Yes  
Asian Yes Yes Yes Yes  
White Yes Yes Yes Yes  
ELL Yes Yes Yes Yes  
Poverty Yes Yes Yes Yes  
Disability Yes Yes Yes No  

AYP Failure School: Miss All

  Reading 95% Math 95% Other indicator
All Students No No No No No
Black/African American No No No No  
Hispanic No No No No  
Native American No No No No  
Asian No No No No  
White No No No No  
LEP No No No No  
Poverty No No No No  
Disability No No No No  

However, the use of growth models will not completely eliminate this problem. If one subgroup makes AYP using a growth model, while another subgroup in the school does not make AYP (even using the growth model), the school will still be designated as failing AYP. In this instance, the use of the growth model doesn't eliminate the "all or nothing" approach.

I would also note that there are differences among growth models, with varying levels of complexity. Some states, like North Carolina, have had to implement a different growth formula for students not already proficient than for students who are proficient. This was necessary because of the federal requirement that proficiency be the end result of any growth trajectory. Obviously, such a model does not work for students who already are proficient.

I would like to close my comments on growth models by reminding the committee that having a growth model as part of the AYP process is an improvement but it will not be a panacea. Getting certain students on track to proficiency within a four-year timeline, as is required under North Carolina's approved model, will still be a challenge for many schools. In addition, complexities will continue to arise for some ELL students or certain students with disabilities who take alternate assessments. We will also continue to need much more research about growth models as well as technical assistance to states, local districts, and educators to evaluate and use data, evaluate the models themselves, and replicate successful efforts. The ultimate goal should be to help classroom educators use data to inform instruction.

NEA's Work To Close Achievement Gaps

It has been a major priority of mine to marshal NEA resources to assist our state and local affiliates in seeking policy changes at the state and local level to help close achievement gaps. Our work has included:

  • Committing more than $6 million through NEA Foundation grants to close achievement gaps in urban school districts. Those grants fund programs with clear goals of improving literacy and math and science achievement; helping stabilize quality staff; and involving families and communities involved in the learning process. In two of the grant sites, Hamilton County, Tennessee, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, school faculties use growth data to assess progress in reading and mathematics and determine appropriate interventions for instructional improvement. Reaching ambitious growth targets provides confidence and positive reinforcement to teachers and students who have large gaps to overcome and helps teachers and administrators set continuous benchmarks for progress and observe what works in changing instructional practice. For example, last year in Hamilton County, Tennessee, the five schools targeted under the NEA grant set and achieved a goal of 115 percent of the expected growth according to state standards per annum in reading and mathematics achievement. While these schools have not yet all reached high levels of achievement compared to the state's affluent schools, they have made greater gains than many of the top-ranked schools. By significantly accelerating the rate of achievement, low-performing schools can close achievement gaps, while all schools continue to make progress.

  • Delivering trainings and products on a variety of instructional issues, including closing the achievement gaps, to our members and leaders across the country.
    Sponsoring statewide National Board Certified Teacher summits focused on recruiting and retaining accomplished teachers in high-need, high-poverty schools with low student achievement.

  • Developing and sharing with all NEA affiliates our Closing Achievement Gaps: An Association Guide --a blueprint for closing the gaps.

  • Awarding grants to ten states (Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania) focused on closing gaps through changes in state policies such as early childhood education, coaching for new principals, statewide teacher induction programs, and revised state professional development guidelines. We have also provided grants to eight states for their work to encourage highly skilled teachers to move to and stay in high-need schools.

  • Continuing the partnership established in 2005 with the Tom Joyner Foundation to increase the percentage of highly qualified Black teachers in targeted high-needs communities. The Teacher Licensure Scholarship Program, funded by the Tom Joyner Foundation, provides financial assistance to historically Black colleges and universities to assist minority teachers in preparation for licensure exams. More than 250 scholarships have already been awarded nationally through this program.

  • Developing training modules on closing the achievement gaps for use in community conversations. This work has been piloted in Mississippi and Florida and will be used by the end of this program year in three of the seven states that have been awarded grants to convene community conversations.

  • Surveying, through the Center for Teacher Quality, teachers in three states (Kansas, Arizona, Ohio) to identify the necessary working conditions to achieve optimum teaching and learning environments.

  • Developing online professional development focused on helping teachers become more effective with a diverse student body.

  • Awarding grants to recognize model teacher retention programs through a Saturn-UAW-NEA partnership.

  • Launching and maintaining an easily accessible, interactive Web site to help our affiliates and the general public research and locate resources about the achievement gaps (http://www.achievementgaps.org/ ).

In the near future, NEA will develop a program guide outlining effective support strategies for minority candidates pursuing National Board Certification, with the goal of increasing the percentage of minority National Board Certified teachers in high-need schools. In the next school year, we will convene community conversations in seven states as part of our Public Engagement Project (PEP) initiative. We will also develop additional educational materials for state affiliates on teaching and working conditions, and we will be announcing additional grants for 2006-07. Finally, NEA is building a state-by-state database to identify policies, practices and programs that help close the achievement gaps. I would be happy to share additional information on any of our projects with the committee.

Before I conclude, I would like to share just one of the many stories from countless NEA members about the impact of ESEA on them and their students. It is a story about a boy named Cesar and his ESL teacher, Mary Beth Solano in Fort Collins, CO. She writes:

"One of my recent student's stories is a prime example of how NCLB legislation, by labeling students unfairly, is demoralizing and needs to be changed. Cesar, a third grade student, came to me in August with not word one of English. Together with his classroom teacher, significant work with me, and a fantastic group of peers, he learned English amazingly quickly.

I was almost going to exempt him from the test, but two things stopped me. One, the part of NCLB that says that any child who doesn't take the test counts as a zero for our school's report card, and Cesar himself, who set as his personal goal knowing enough English to pass CSAP (Colorado's state-mandated NCLB test). Reluctantly, but with Cesar's terrific desire to succeed coaxing us on, we had him take the test. He struggled and struggled, reading every word...over and over again until he thought he understood well enough to answer each question.

He worked so hard and so long on that test, it brought tears to my eyes. He was soooooo proud of himself after he completed it, you should have seen his face. Remember, he had only been working in English since August and the reading test was given in February...six short months with a new language, and he took the same test as native speakers did. He kept asking what his score was, and actually looked forward to the day his parents would get 'the letter'. Well, the scores came out, and while we celebrated (understanding statistics and scoring), he and his family were devastated. Cesar earned a score that was only two tiny points below the cut-off for partially proficient on CSAP, but below the cut-off it was, so he was labeled an 'Unsatisfactory' learner.

Nothing could be farther from the truth for he had gone from basically zero to almost proficient in just six months (something no politician has ever done!!), but the federal government didn't care about that effort or progress. To the feds, the state and the public he was unsatisfactory. I tried explaining it all to his parents, and tried even harder to lift Cesar's spirits, but I'm not sure how much success I had. Without changes in the structure and process of reporting scores, stories like Cesar's will continue to deflate and demoralize the best and brightest students."

On behalf of all 2.8 million members of the National Education Association, I want to thank you for this opportunity. We look forward to working with you throughout the reauthorization process. I encourage every member of this committee to talk to your local educators about their experiences. Ask them about their frustrations. But more importantly, ask them about their successes. When you do, you'll get as clear a sense as I have. They all have a "Cesar" story. They all want every one of their students to succeed. And they go above and beyond the call of duty time and time again to make that goal a reality for America's public school students.

Thank you. I will be happy to answer any questions.