Note: The following article is reprinted with permission from “The Pulse.”

It's mid-October, and the long-delayed House and Senate education committee action on the mis-named "No Child Left Behind" may never come to pass this year. Or it may. In either event, pushing hard for major changes to the law is essential, either to win them in a new law now or to prepare the ground for a renewed battle in 2009. Now is a critical time for educators -- school board members, administrators, teachers and other staff -- parents and community members to contact their Congressional representatives and demand a thorough overhaul of the law.

The multi-organizational Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA) has crafted proposals that, if adopted, would create a law focused on assistance and improvement, not sanctions, and on attainable but significant rates of improvement. It would use multiple sources of evidence of student learning and school progress, including local assessments, to evaluate schools.

The FEA based its plan on the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, signed by 140 national education, civil rights, religious, disability, parent, civic and labor organizations, representing 50 million Americans. FEA has issued two major reports and submitted detailed recommendations to Congress. These address the mandate that all children score proficient by 2014, "adequate yearly progress" (AYP), the amount of testing, the reliance on standardized tests, sanctions, and improvement. Here are summaries of FEA's proposals and brief comments indicating where the education committees appear to be in relation to these proposals.

Educationally Helpful Assessments:


(1) Provide support to states and districts to develop high-quality local assessments. These can include classroom, school and district tests; extended writing assignments; projects; performances; exhibitions; collected samples of student classroom work; and portfolios or learning records. A "discussion draft" presented in the House Education Committee offered a decent start, but it is under attack, and a limited version may be all committee leadership offers.

(2) Require fewer but higher quality assessments. Current law mandates annual reading and math tests in grades 3-8 plus once in high school, as well as science tests in three grades. Instead, FEA endorses statewide reading, math and science assessments once each in elementary, middle and high school. Leadership has resisted this change, but some members of Congress support the proposal.

Rational Expectations for Improvement:

(1) Hold schools accountable for implementing systemic changes, including professional development and family support, which can produce significant improvements in education.

(2) Use multiple indicators, including local assessments in multiple subjects, and graduation and grade promotion rates – not just test scores in two subjects – to evaluate schools. Combine the indicators into one composite, weighted index – not a series of separate hurdles. This concept was introduced in weak form in the House discussion draft.

(3) Use growth measures that track learning gains of individual students and incorporate multiple sources of evidence. Growth measures will be in the reauthorization, but thus far focus only on test scores and are limited by the mandate that all children score proficient by 2014.

(4) Continue to report outcome data by demographic groups.

(5) Establish expected rates of improvement in learning, using multiple indicators, based on gains actually attained by significant numbers of schools serving low-performing students. For example, within five years all Title I schools should reach the rate of improvement now reached by the Title I school now at the 65th percentile when ranked by rate of improvement. Congress has not even addressed the current improvement metric, AYP.

(6) Taken together, FEA calls for balanced accountability, including both systemic changes and learning outcomes indicated through multiple measures. Congress, thus far, remains fixated on test results and AYP.

Support Instead of Punishment:

(1) Remove most NCLB sanctions, including the diversion of classroom funds to mandated supplemental services (tutoring) and school transfers, "restructuring," governance changes, and privatizing control of schools. These remain in the House draft, though with some beneficial modifications. Much more must be done.

(2) Use federal and state funds equal to 40% of Title I allocations to strengthen locally-controlled professional development, parental involvement and family support. Professional development is improved, but underfunded and not made a core part of what schools do on a regular basis.

(3) Require monitoring and interventions to provide more intensive and tailored assistance to schools that have difficulty implementing systemic changes or are unable to meet the required rates of improvement after five years. The House draft moves in this direction, but insufficiently.

(4) To expand and equalize educational opportunity, fully fund ESEA and fund a significant share of the improvements called for by FEA. Authorized spending must increase, but the real problem is that Congress and President Bush are appropriating far less than they could and should. Still, more money for a bad law will not make it a good law – so the content of the law must change and then it must be adequately funded.

Taken together, the FEA recommendations would overhaul the federal law so it would support positive change rather than reduce schooling to test preparation. While some FEA proposals are appearing in Congressional drafts, the modifications are far too weak. To have any chance of major improvement, constituents will have to push hard on the committees and their own representatives.

To contact your representatives, go to www.house.gov and www.senate.gov to get their information. Calling, writing or faxing is much better than emailing.

FairTest has detailed information on NCLB and alternatives at www.fairtest.org

For more information on FEA proposals and the Joint Statement, see www.edaccountability.org

For reasons why Congress should support multiple measures, see my Pulse article.

Monty Neill, Ed.D. is co-director of FairTest and chairs the Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA). The views here build on FEA work, but this is not an FEA column.