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Testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Wednesday morning, Graduate School of Education professor Martin R. West emphasized the importance of annual standardized testing in grades 3-8.
“I would urge you not to lose sight of the positive aspects of No Child Left Behind,” he said Wednesday in his remarks to Congress, referring to the assessment-based education reform law passed in 2001. “Above all, the law’s requirement that students be tested annually...has provided parents, teachers, and other citizens with detailed information about students’ performance in these foundational subjects.”
“Research confirms that, by requiring states that had previously not implemented school accountability systems to do so, No Child Left Behind worked to generate modest improvements in student learning,” he continued.
The newly elected, Republican-controlled Congress has prioritized reforms to No Child Left Behind, and some members have proposed eliminating the law’s annual standardized testing mandate.
During an interview Tuesday, West said he thought he was chosen as a witness in part because he had worked for the committee in the past. West served as an education policy adviser last year to Senator A. Lamar Alexander, Jr., the committee’s chairman.
The hearing followed a research paper published Tuesday by West and Matthew M. Chingos, a senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy.
In the paper, Chingos and West compare two metrics of success: test scores and test score improvement. Data on students in Florida and North Carolina suggests that, when evaluated on test scores alone, schools with more low-income students tend to perform worse than their wealthier counterparts. However, when judged by test score improvement, differences in income appear to affect performance less.
The paper concludes that judging schools on test scores rather than growth judges “the students they serve, not how well they serve them.”
In Tuesday’s interview, West said that he opposes reducing statewide standardized testing because doing so would make it impossible to evaluate students based on growth.
“To abandon that would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater [in an attempt to address] what are very real problems with the design of the No Child Left Behind accountability system,” he said.
Though West conceded that concerns about over-testing are legitimate, he said that it is probably not a “pervasive problem” and that it is not driven by year-end, annual state testing.
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