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NCLB Outrages

Connecticut: Cheaper Tests Still Would Exceed Federal Funding

Ohanian Comment: Pay attention to the Feds' argument: proof positive that they don't want 'good' tests.

by Robert A. Frahm

Even if Connecticut were to cheapen its statewide school testing
program, the cost of meeting a federal school reform law still would
exceed the level of federal support, state officials said Tuesday in a
legal brief.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed the brief with U.S. District
Judge Mark R. Kravitz, who is overseeing a state lawsuit challenging the
cost of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The state contends that the federal government is going back on its
promise to pay for additional student testing required under the act,
but U.S. officials argue that Connecticut's tests are simply more
expensive than necessary.

The U.S. Department of Education has suggested that Connecticut
streamline its test and offer a less expensive version that would
include only multiple-choice questions, but Blumenthal said even a
simpler test would cost about $4 million more than what the federal
government provides.

"No matter how you mince words or rework the math, the federal
government is breaking the law - grossly shortchanging Connecticut in
education funding," Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal filed the suit against U.S. Education Secretary Margaret
Spellings last summer, calling the federal law an unfunded mandate that
will unfairly cost state and local taxpayers millions of dollars. The
federal government has filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the case.

For 20 years, Connecticut has tested children in grades 4, 6 and 8, but
No Child Left Behind also requires testing in grades 3, 5 and 7 - an
expansion that state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg contends
will cost millions of dollars more with little benefit.

Sternberg so far has refused to simplify the tests, as suggested by
federal officials. Connecticut's Mastery Test, which is being given
statewide beginning this week, includes a combination of multiple-choice
questions and open-ended questions that require written answers. The
open-ended questions are considerably more expensive to develop and score.

The state also includes a writing test for all test-takers even though
the federal law requires testing only in reading and mathematics.

According to Tuesday's legal brief, this spring's expanded test program
will cost about $14.4 million, well above the $5.8 million from the
federal government for expanding the test. Even a scaled-down version of
the test would cost about $9.9 million, Blumenthal told the court.

Educators and politicians across the nation are watching the case
closely to gauge its impact on the No Child Left Behind Act, the
centerpiece of President Bush's school reform agenda. The law calls for
a broad expansion of testing and a shake-up of schools that fail to make
progress with all students, including low-income children, special
education students and members of minority groups.

— Robert A. Frahm
Hartford Courant


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