U.S. Won't Yield On Test Waiver
Ohanian Comment: Note that the feds say the way for Connecticut to make this work is to drop the writing test.
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings faxed her final answer to the state Department of Education Wednesday denying the commissioner's request for a waiver on adding three additional grades to the state's testing schedule beginning next year.
She also rejected the state's quest for more money to pay for the additional Connecticut Mastery Tests, asserting that Connecticut's test goes beyond the requirements of the federal law. The federal No Child Left Behind Act, she said, does not require states to test writing, which is expensive to score because it cannot be done by computer.
The mastery tests are now administered to grades 4, 6 and 8 and the federal law requires that grades 3, 5 and 7 be added. State officials have been asking for relief for weeks, saying the additional tests will cost $8 million more over the next two years alone.
The letter arrived in Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg's office as she and the state board of education were meeting with state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal about Blumenthal's plan to sue the federal government for money to pay for the tests.
State officials scoffed at the idea of dropping the writing portion of the test.
"We will absolutely not drop writing," Sternberg said, noting that the federal law requests tests for reading and math and leaves the third subject on the test to the discretion of the states.
"We chose writing. We think writing is essential," she said. And dropping it "sends a signal that writing is not important. What you have on the test, teachers attend to. If it's not on the test, then teachers don't attend to it."
Federal officials have also suggested that the state reformulate its test to use all multiple choice questions that can be scored by a computer, said board Chairman Allan B. Taylor. "We don't want to dumb down our test. ... I don't think that's what Congress wanted."
In her letter, Spellings also suggested that the state can redirect some of its federal funds to help pay for the tests. The suggestion isn't helpful, Taylor said. "Taking from one pocket and putting it in another doesn't help us very much."
Blumenthal also took a dim view of the suggestion. "I believe that diverting dollars from other federal education programs is illogical and the unfunded mandates are illegal," he said in a statement later in the day. "I am fully committed to court action necessary to force the federal government to follow the law - an express provision that bans unfunded mandates."
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