William A. Estrada
Director of Federal Relations
HSLDA

 
 
9/7/2007

No Child Left Behind
Why Congress Should Reauthorize Section 9529 to Prohibit Nationalized Testing

Introduction

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) came before Congress for reauthorization in early 2001 in the form of H.R. 1, The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Congress inserted section 9529 in NCLB to forbid federal funds from being used for any nationalized testing program.

Section 9529 reads in its entirety:

“‘‘SEC. 9529. 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 under this Act to the Secretary or to the recipient of any award may be used to develop, pilot test, field test, implement, administer, or distribute any federally sponsored national test in reading, mathematics, or any other subject, unless specifically and explicitly authorized by law.

‘‘(b) EXCEPTIONS.-Subsection (a) shall not apply to international comparative assessments developed under the authority of section 404(a)(6) of the National Education Statistics Act of 1994 and administered to only a representative sample of pupils in the United States and in foreign nations.”

We urge Congress to reauthorize this language and to strengthen it by adding language to forbid any federal funds from being used to make the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mandatory for all U.S. students in any grade.

A nationalized test would lead to a nationalized curriculum

The greatest danger of a national test is the federally approved curriculum it will inevitably require. University of Kansas professor John Poggio stated in February of 1997, “What gets tested is what will be taught.” His statement encompasses the common concern among home schools, religious schools and private schools alike. If what Mr. Poggio says is true, then a national curriculum will be a definitive step toward centralized control of education and abrogation of its local governance.

In a leading federal case from Florida, Debra P. v. Turlington, the court ruled that the curriculum must match the test or else the test is invalid and cannot be legally administered. Under this ruling, any national test must mirror the curriculum. With 16,000 different courses of study presently used by both parochial and public schools, it is currently impossible for one standard test to fit each curriculum. The only feasible means of implementing a national test would then be to establish a national curriculum with content defined by unelected policy makers in Washington.

A national test would lead to a national curriculum, along with all of the problems, potential for abuse, and loss of local control that would come along with it. Congress should not allow any funds to be used to develop a national test that would then require a national curriculum to go along with it.

A nationalized test will not lead to higher academic performance

Increased testing does not lead to higher academic performance, it merely shows where a student stands in comparison with other students who have taken the same test. On September 16, 1997, during congressional debate about President Clinton’s proposed national test, Congressman Goodling of Virginia aptly analogized the idea of increased testing to the agriculture industry: “If someone is in the cattle business, they do not fatten cattle by constantly putting them on the scales and weighing them.” In addition, he said that, “President Clinton’s plan for two new federal education tests won’t boost the academic performance of a single American child. Americans should not be misled into thinking that better tests will lead to better students."

According to a USA Today Gallup Poll, released October 7, 1997, a majority of Americans agree with Mr. Goodling. The poll shows that over half those responding believe that Clinton’s test would either make little difference or worsen the quality of the education in public schools. In Britain, for example, a national test launched a decline in performance by forcing teachers to narrow the curriculum, teach to the test, and in some instances, unethically report elevated test scores.

A nationalized test would be susceptible to politicization

A national test (along with a national curriculum) would be susceptible to being politicized by the unelected policy makers or a governing board which would determine the content of what would be tested. Local entities would have no final say over what would be tested, and by extension, what would have to be taught in the schools. A national governing board and the organizations which wrote the questions for the test would not be answerable to the parents of the children who would have to take the test and study for it, or to the teachers who would administer the test and teach the curriculum. A national board could use the test to advance its own social values and judgments, and the states and local school boards would be forced to administer the test and teach the curriculum or lose federal education funds.

A national test will penalize poor school districts and minorities

Many minorities and their advocates actively opposed a federal national test when it was proposed under the Clinton Administration. These included minority groups like the African-American group Project 21, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Mexican American Legal Defense, and the National Women’s Law Center. Along with fears of a national curriculum and excessive paperwork, they believed that poor and minority students could be stigmatized by a national test, i.e., that a national test may be culturally biased, or that it would not be printed in Spanish for limited-English proficient children.

A nationalized test is not necessary

American students do not need more testing - they need better teaching. Teachers are not to blame, but rather it is the current management-heavy, centralized control of public education that hamstrings good educators. Creating more top-down approaches to education, which is what would happen with one nationalized test and curriculum that is forced upon all school districts, would exacerbate, rather than decrease, the problem of over-centralization.

Within the past two decades, school reformers have advocated a more decentralized approach to decision making in public schools, which has gone by the name of “school-based management.”1 This approach has stressed that those closest to the teaching of students - principals, teachers, and parents - should be given more freedom to determine how the students should be educated. Indeed, the academic success of home school students, recently highlighted by their average scores on the ACT which surpassed that of the national average,2. illustrates that low regulation and freedom of teachers (in this case, the parents) is one of the most important factors to high academic achievement.3.

Parents and educators can determine if students are learning by using the currently available nationally normed standardized achievement tests, such as the California Achievement Test, the Stanford Achievement Test, and others. There is no need to add to the burden on parents and teachers alike by requiring all students to take the same nationalized test.

Conclusion

Congress should reauthorize section 9529 to keep federal funds from going to advance any form of a nationalized test. Additionally, this section should be strengthened to prevent any funding from being used to make the NAEP a mandatory, nationalized test. The federal government should avoid entering the complex and expensive realm of a nationalized test.

Endnotes

1 School-Based Management: Rhetoric vs. Reality, Suzanne Weiss, ECS managing editor, and Todd Ziebarth, ECS project manager in charge of governance, Education Commission of the States (ECS) Vol. 2, No. 5, April-May 2001. Available online at www.ecs.org/clearinghouse

2 Once Again Homeschoolers Score High on the ACT Exam, HSLDA web article, July 31, 2007, available online at www.hslda.org/docs

3 More data on the academic success of homeschooled students is available: Lawrence M. Rudner, Ph.D., Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998, 1999. Available online at epaa.asu.edu and Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., Strengths of Their Own-Home Schoolers Across America: Academic Achievement, Family Characteristics, and Longitudinal Traits, 1997. Study available at www.nheri.org/content