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New Federal Testing Proposals: Praise, Caution & Action

Under ESSA, states are required to administer tests in English language arts and math to all students in grades 3 to 8 and once in high school. The law also preserves the mandate that students be tested once in science in each of these grade spans: 3 to 5, 6 to 9 and 10 to 12. 
Constructive implementation of these requirements was addressed earlier this year when an array of stakeholders from several organizations, including our union, met in Washington, D.C. There they examined concerns surrounding testing and fleshed out possible new approaches under ESSA. 
Click here for our report on the National Summit on Teacher Leadership.
This process is called negotiated rulemaking, and much of the organizations’ work carries into the department’s new proposed rules. 
“The proposed regulations give states and school districts needed flexibility to develop assessment systems,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten (above, at recent AFT Connecticut executive committee meeting), adding “we remain concerned that the drive for data eclipses student needs.” 
Pointing to the DOE’s proposal to tie waivers for exceeding the cap on testing students with significant cognitive disabilities to requirements to test 95 percent of students, Weingarten said, “we’re worried that parents who want to opt their kids out of testing will be thwarted by rules punishing their schools if they choose to exercise their rights.”
“ESSA has opened up a window of opportunity for much-needed changes in federal education policy,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “But we must remain vigilant to assure our students an approach that’s more focused on teaching and learning than the old test-and-punish regime,” added Hochadel, who taught physics and science in the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS). 
Click here for press reporting on the proposed testing rules.
ESSA also establishes a pilot program for seven states to use performance assessments in all or a subset of schools in lieu of traditional state tests for federal accountability purposes. It’s a proposal our union strongly supports, and the department’s announcement of rules tied to the pilot was the “best news of the day” said Weingarten.
“This is a real opportunity to help demonstrate effective ways for the rest of the nation to transform teaching and learning,” said AFT Connecticut jurisdictional vice president for PreK-12 educators Patti Fusco. “The pilot offers tremendous promise for states like Connecticut — as long as they are modeled on approaches that allow us to place instructional emphasis on deep issue knowledge and analytical skills, not just test prep,” added Fusco, a teacher of talented and gifted students in West Haven Public Schools.
Click here for press coverage on the pilot program.
ESSA can only fulfill its promise if it is implemented well — with rules that remain faithful to the will of Congress and their constituents. That’s why we are urging union members, leaders and the community to add their names to a petition to help win essential changes to regulations advanced by DOE.
Click here to sign and share the petition to the DOE secretary.
Rank-and-file educators’ voices were essential in winning ESSA — a real chance to break free of test-and-punish under “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). Those voices will be just as vital in winning a strong rollout of the new law.

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