Connecticut Seeks To Limit Student Testing
Connecticut has asked to be exempted from an expansion of school testing required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, saying the extra tests would cost millions of dollars without any benefit.
State Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg also has requested more flexibility in interpreting the No Child Left Behind law in several other areas, including the testing of special education students and non-English-speaking children.
The 3-year-old law, the centerpiece of President Bush's school reform agenda, requires annual tests for all students in grades 3-8 and calls for a shake-up of schools that fail to meet academic standards.
For 20 years, Connecticut has given its mastery test to children in grades 4, 6 and 8.
"Our tests are among the most demanding in the country," Sternberg wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education-designate Margaret Spellings. "Adding tests in grades 3, 5 and 7 ... will tell us nothing that we do not already know about our students' achievement."
Many states have requested flexibility in interpreting No Child Left Behind, but an exemption from a major portion of testing would be a significant concession.
"I cannot imagine they're going to get approval on that," said Kathy Christie, a vice president for the Education Commission of the States, which monitors education activity in the 50 states. Spokesmen for the U.S. Department of Education could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Connecticut spends more than $4 million a year on its mastery test. The state will get $5 million more annually from the federal government to expand testing, but Sternberg said the money would be better spent on upgrading existing exams or developing tests that would be more useful to teachers in modifying instruction.
"I don't need another test to tell me [which] schools are in the greatest need," Sternberg said Wednesday.
Connecticut is scheduled to expand its mastery test to grades 3, 5 and 7 in spring 2006 to comply with the federal law.
Sternberg also asked to be allowed to give some special education students tests below their grade level. Under the current law, Connecticut must develop specialized tests at the grade level of special education students even when educators believe those tests are "inappropriate, ineffective and unfair to the students," Sternberg wrote to Spellings.
In addition, Sternberg requested permission to exempt non-English-speaking students from testing requirements for up to three years. No Child Left Behind requires the testing of all students, including new arrivals who speak little or no English. Although the law permits states to test students in their native languages, Sternberg told Spellings that the cost of developing alternative tests would be in the "tens of millions of dollars" and that such tests would miss the point of developing English skills.
Robert A. Frahm
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