C O V E R S T O R Y
Home Schoolers Win Ban on
Thanks to the actions of Congress last year, we will soon have, for the very first time, a voluntary national test based on national standards. . . So said President Clinton in his State of the Union speech to the nation on January 27, 1998.
Well, maybe not. Ten months later . . .
. . . And there will be no national testing! So said House Speaker Newt Gingrich emerging from budget negotiations with the president in October.
On October 21, the 105th Congress adjourned after passing a huge omnibus spending bill which included fiscal year 1999 appropriations for dozens of federal departments and related agencies. Buried in the depths of the document were a few brief sentences permanently prohibiting the U.S. Department of Education from continuing with their plans to test all fourth graders in reading and all eighth graders in math without explicit authority from Congress. The language included in the bill is exactly what home schoolers all over the country had been fighting to pass during the last two years.
So What Happened on the Way to National Testing?
President Clinton first announced his plan for a voluntary national test during his State of the Union Address of February 4, 1997. Since then, Home School Legal Defense Association member families have been the key participants in many battles over the issue. After obtaining an overwhelming vote for a one-year temporary prohibition in the Labor/Health and Human Services/ Education Appropriations bill in the fall of 1997 (296 to 125 in the House), chief congressional opponents of federal testing, Representative William Goodling (R-PA) and Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO) introduced companion, stand-alone prohibition without explicit authority legislation in January 1998. That same month, President Clinton made his boast in the State of the Union speech claiming victory on the issue.
Congressman Goodlings bill, H.R. 2846, later passed the House on February 5 by a vote of 242174, but action on Senator Ashcrofts version, S. 1215, was stalled.
An opportunity to move the Senate version presented itself in the form of H.R. 2646, Senator Paul Coverdells (R-GA) A+ Education Savings Accounts legislation. As a part of a Unanimous Consent Agreement in the Senate to end a Democratic filibuster of the bill, only 12 amendments were allowed for debate and vote on the Senate floor during consideration. One of these was Senator Ashcrofts prohibition on federal testing. Home schoolers from around the country poured thousands of phone calls into Congress and visited Senate offices, urging passage of the amendment. In the end, the Ashcroft amendment passed and was added to the A+ legislation.
Unfortunately, due to veto threats by the president, congressional leadership felt it was necessary to pull the testing language from H.R. 2646 during the House/Senate conference committee. This stripped away all pretense from the presidents rejection of true educational choice for all American families when he subsequently vetoed the A+ Accounts. Both Ashcroft and Goodling agreed with the strategy to pull the testing prohibition language from the bill but they wanted assurances that leadership would support the ban in the future. In a letter, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) gave their word that they would include the testing ban language in must pass legislation later in the session.
True to Their Word
True to the word of the congressional leadership, and at the insistence of many conservative members and organizations, the federal testing prohibition was attached to the omnibus spending bill during negotiations with the Clinton administration.
The House passed the bill on the evening of October 20, and the Senate followed suit immediately the next morning. President Clinton signed the legislation on October 21.
Interestingly, while the congressional leadership were consistently caving to pressure from the White House on issues such as homosexual adoption and parental notification for minors receiving contraception, they stood firm on federal testing. This is due largely to the efforts of home schooling families all over the country who worked tirelessly last year to make sure that the Goodling amendment was placed in the FY98 appropriations for the Department of Education. Congressional leadership saw the dedication that home schoolers have to protecting their freedoms, and honored that dedication during the long budget negotiations with the White House. (See sidebar on the omnibus bill.)
Instead of a one-year, temporary testing ban like the one we were able to pass as part of the FY98 Appropriations bill in 1997, the language included in the Omnibus FY99 Spending bill is a prohibition on national testing imbedded in the General Education Provisions Act. This means it is permanent federal law and cannot be changed unless explicitly done so by Congress.
The actual language in the bill states:
SEC. 447. PROHIBITION ON FEDERALLY SPONSORED TESTING.
(a) GENERAL PROHIBITION.Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law and except as provided in subsection (b), no funds provided to the Department of Education or to an applicable program, may be used to pilot test, field test, implement, administer or distribute in any way any federally sponsored national test in reading, mathematics, or any other subject that is not specifically and explicitly provided for in authorizing legislation enacted into law.
NAGB Efforts Continue
Despite the fact that there is now a prohibition on national testing imbedded in the General Education Provisions Act, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) retains some authority over developing national voluntary tests. That authority is based on a pre-existing contract (RJ97153001) that NAGB entered into with the American Institutes for Research last summer to begin limited development of test items. In light of the current prohibition, House Education Committee staff say that it appears unlikely that NAGB would seek to renew the contract.
To continue its role in national testing NAGB is now required to clearly articulate in a report the purpose and intended use of any proposed federally sponsored national test. The report must also include a definition of the term voluntary for purposes of the test, and a description of achievement levels and reporting methods. The report is due by the end of the current fiscal year and must be submitted to the White House, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, and both Appropriations committees.
In addition, NAGB must respond to a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study released September 24, 1998, which reported that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) achievement levels are fundamentally flawed. This is of great importance since the proposed federal tests would be based on the NAEP framework.
The National Academy of Sciences must also conduct a study of the feasibility, validity, and reliability of imbedding test items from NAEP or other tests into state and district assessments as another way of determining individual academic progress.
It is important to note that, while limited development work will continue this year, NAGB cannot, pilot test, field test, implement, administer or distribute in any way a federally sponsored national test.
United We Stand
We are pleased that the congressional leadership stood with us on this important home school freedom issue. Indeed the testing prohibition is a victory for home schoolers, concluded Christopher Klicka, Executive Director of the National Center for Home Education.
We praise God for His faithfulness to us, and we thank home school families across America for all their efforts, added HSLDA President Mike Farris. It was the thousands of phone calls and letters that created the momentum to carry this measure through. Proverbs says, the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. (Proverbs 13:4) The battle over national testing has proven once again that the home school community, uniting with our friends in the private school community and others, can be victorious against great odds.
Why? Because we have a clear understanding of constitutional limits of the federal government over education and the risks associated with the imposition of any national test, we are focused on the biblical mandate to love our children diligently, and we trust God for our ultimate victory.
R E L A T E D I T E M S
National Testing Time Line
What were the risks of a national test?
Victory Letter from Bill Goodling
A Mixed Bag: The 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Bill