NEA President Lily Eskelsen García welcomed the news on Monday that the Obama administration is calling for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) but said annual testing will continue to undermine any effort to provide every child with the resources they need to succeed academically.
“We are looking forward to working with Republicans, Democrats, the civil rights community, educators and other partners in ensuring that all students have equal educational opportunity—the original focus of ESEA," García said. "A child’s chances for success should not depend on living in the right zip code."
NEA supports testing as a way to guide instruction for students and tailor lessons to their individual needs, but parents and educators know that the "one-size-fits-all annual federal testing structure has not worked," García added.
The Obama administration, however, has doubled down on annual testing, which Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made clear in his speech on Monday laying out his vision for ESEA reauthorization. Duncan made his remarks as the 114th Congress geared up to take action on the issue.
Duncan said access to excellent resources and teaching must be the focus of the a new version of the law and that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was broken beyond repair.
" I believe we can replace it with a law that recognizes that schools need more support – more money – than they receive today,” Duncan said. “A law that recognizes that no family should be denied preschool for their children. A law that recognizes the hard work educators across America are doing to support and raise expectations for students, and lifts up the profession of teaching by recognizing that teachers need better preparation, better support, and more resources."
Duncan conceded that "there are too many tests that take up too much time, and I know many educators and families are frustrated about that. I believe we need to take action to support a better balance."
Duncan proposed states set limits on the amount of time devoted to tests and preparation, but reiterated his support for annual testing
Garcia responded that a focus on educational opportunity, however, requires a greater reduction in standardized tests than what Duncan is proposing.
Overtesting has "corrupted the quality of the education received by children, especially those in high poverty areas," García said.
NEA supports a return to grade span testing - one federally-required standardized test in grades 3–5, one in grades 6–9 and one in grades 10–12. This schedule would free up critical time for teaching and allows for a more dynamic, diverse, and challenging curriculum.
Such a system would also allow states and districts the flexibility to design more effective systems of evaluating student and teacher performance.
"We need smarter accountability systems that look at more than just a test score, but focuses on the many factors that are indicative of school and student success, and highlight gaps in equity that must be addressed,” García added.