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Push To Revamp Federal Testing Requirements Unlikely To Gain Traction

More than a decade after No Child Left Behind was passed, teachers say testing is not working.
Chris Chester/WAMU
More than a decade after No Child Left Behind was passed, teachers say testing is not working.

This summer there's been a big push by the nation's powerful teacher unions to completely revamp the nation's standardized tests mandated under No Child Left Behind and then changed with the new Common Core standards.

Educators say after 12 years of implementing standardized tests nationwide, those assessments have proved to be impediments to teachers. And if they don't get the reforms they're demanding, they say the president should oust his secretary of education, Arne Duncan.

Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) understands the frustration from teachers unions, but says Congress shares the blame.

“People are willing to kind of limp along with waivers and back-and-forth without doing anything. As long as the funding continues, which it has, people will just let the status quo continue," Scott says.

The debate over standardized tests often cuts across party lines. Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) isn't a big fan of the law.

“The No Child Left Behind law was written by people with great intentions, I think, but I don't think any of them ever ran a school district," Connolly says.

Before coming to Congress, Connolly was chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“You know, as a local-government guy coming here, I have never been enamored with No Child Left Behind because it’s way too rigid. It’s one-size-fits-all," Connolly says. "It’s also an unfunded mandate. Other than that it’s a great law.”

Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) echoes the same frustration and says this is also a rare issue where he’s actually pretty close to President Obama.

“It’s actually been one of my criticisms of the president because I think that our positions are not that far apart. But because he never talks to anybody in Congress — and I don't expect him to call me — but a staffer come by and find out where we stand on things, he doesn't know that we're in agreement," Griffith says.

As for the voices calling for scrapping standardized tests? Congressman Scott says their calls ring hollow.

“Well, you have to have some assessment. It’s not whether they're a standardized test, but you have to have some assessment to ascertain which schools are doing well and which are, frankly, not. And some are by any measure failing schools," he says.

Scott also says there’s another problem.

“Funding is important. I mean, you can't get higher-quality teachers without paying higher-quality salaries, and that would mean that the better students are attracted to teaching, and you'd be able to get and retain the best teachers. You've got to deal with the salaries. By any assessment, teachers are not being paid as well as they should be paid," Scott says.

Lawmakers aren't expected to touch the nation’s education policy ahead of November, so local educators are once again left waiting to see if Washington will throw them a lifeline or just another hurdle to try and jump.

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