Duncan defends standardized testing

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday vigorously defended the federal testing requirements for elementary and middle-school students under No Child Left Behind.

“I think it’s important for us as parents, as teachers, for students themselves to know how they’re doing,” he told reporters after a speech at a Washington, D.C., elementary school.

{mosads}The testing standards, which mandate that states assess students at the end of each school year, have drawn fierce opposition from conservatives, who see them as federal overreach, as well as criticism from some teachers unions, who argue they are ineffective.

With the No Child law up for renewal this year, the Obama administration is championing the program and girding for a battle with Republicans over its future.

Duncan in a speech said he was “deeply concerned” about the policy changes Republicans might make when updating the decades-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

“I am deeply concerned about where some Republicans may be headed on ESEA,” he said. “I believe we may have fundamental differences with some congressional Republicans about whether or not the quality of education for every child, regardless of their zip code or where they live, is in the essential interest of our nation or whether it is simply optional.”

No Child Left Behind has been a source of controversy since its passage.

The law created a sanctions regime for states that fail to meet certain performance benchmarks, elevating the importance of the annual standardized tests for school districts.

States have chafed under the standards, and the Obama administration began granting waivers from the law in 2011.

Duncan detailed the administration’s proposals for updating No Child Left Behind, including measures to broaden access to preschool.

He said the new law should work to eliminate “duplicative” testing, and said the administration would seek funding to review the effectiveness of the tests now in use.

Duncan also emphasized that the law should be used to rectify racial and economic disparities in education, and said the administration would ask for $1 billion in new funding for schools with a high proportion of students living in poverty.

The comments set the stage for a major clash between the administration and congressional Republicans, who are skeptical of the calls for funding increases and new federal mandates.

Republican lawmakers have said they expect to have an update to No Child on the floor of both the House and the Senate in the next few months.

“I promise you this won’t be the easiest path or the path of least resistance,” Duncan said.

President Obama’s Education secretary expressed some hope that a deal could be reached with Republicans to give states flexibility in some of the ways they meet the requirements of the law, and said he looked forward to trying to find a compromise.

“As long as students are truly college- and career-ready, there’s lots of ways to do that,” he said. “There’s lots of ways to assess kids, that’s not up to us to decide. That’s up to the states to figure out.” 

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