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Senate debating federal education policy

Education bills seek to give control back to local authorities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bipartisan effort to reform the nation’s foremost education law is coming to fruition on the heels of state legislation to reduce testing requirements for students.

Some tension remains over particulars, but pretty much everyone agrees that “No Child Left Behind,” signed into law by President George W. Bush, needs to be retired.

No Child Left Behind attempted to put in place national assessment standards along with federal financial support for schools. But even as lawmakers passed the legislation, they were noting things they would want to fix in five years. Two months ago, the Colorado Legislature passed measures easing requirements of the state’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The state bill calls for local pilot programs for testing.

Now, the U.S. Senate is considering the Every Child Achieves Act.

“By repealing Common Core (State level assessment standards) and ending the National School Board, the Every Child Achieves Act recognizes the federal government’s failed one-size-fits-all approach and replaces it with a system that relies on accountability and those who know how to best raise the bar for student success: the states, school districts, and teachers,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., a former superintendent of Denver Public Schools, filed the most amendments to the bill and helped shape it as part of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

“This bill is a good starting point. It eliminates (No Child Left Behind’s) one-size-fits-all approach to education, but importantly, it includes the requirement for annual assessments,” Bennet said. “Testing is not popular, and we are over-testing our kids. We need to reduce testing by streamlining assessments required at state and local levels. And we should think differently about the testing we are doing for teaching and learning. It should be continuous, ongoing, inform a teacher’s instruction, and provide the necessary data to help principals lead our schools.”

Some civil-rights groups oppose testing requirements, which they say are used to allocate funding to schools with subgroups like minorities and children with disabilities without a comprehensive review of their performance.

Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger supports testing and data-collection requirements that Bennet proposed in the bill, but only because those requirements lean toward local testing as determined by instructors in the classroom.

“I struggle with the fact that our kids in poverty will remain struggling if we can’t assess their achievement and see where they need help,” Snowberger said. “Like a CT scan, the larger-scale state tests should really just act as a way to confirm the results of the local, on-the-ground tests.”

Senators also considered issues like the privacy of student data. The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation by the end of the week.

mbaksh@durangoherald.com. Mariam Baksh is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.

An earlier version of this story implied that Common Core is linked with No Child Left Behind. Also the Colorado Legislator didn’t eliminate Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests.

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