Excerpts of Sen. Alexander’s Opening Statement on “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability”

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 21 –The following are excerpts of remarks prepared by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, for his opening statement at today’s hearing:

  • At the center of the debate about how to fix No Child Left Behind is what to do about the federal requirement that states annually administer 17 standardized tests with high-stakes consequences.  Educators call this an accountability system.   
  • Are there too many tests? Are they the right tests? Are the stakes for failing them too high? What should Washington, D.C. have to do with all this?
  • I know members of this committee must be tired of hearing me talk until I am blue in the face about a “national school board.”  I know it is tempting to try to fix classrooms from Washington. I also hear from governors and school superintendents who tell me that, “If Washington doesn’t make us do it, the teachers unions and opponents from the right will make it impossible to have higher standards and better teachers.”
  • And I understand that there can be short-term gains from Washington’s orders—but my experience is that long term success can’t come that way. In fact, today Washington’s involvement, in effect mandating Common Core and teacher evaluation, is creating a backlash, making it harder for states to set higher standards and evaluate teaching.
  • As one former Democratic governor told me recently, “We were doing pretty well until Washington got involved. If they will get out of the way we can get back on track.”     
  • So rather than turn blue in the face one more time about the national school board let me conclude with the remarks of Carol Burris, New York’s High School principal of the Year. She responded last week to our committee working draft this way:
  • . . . I ask that your committee remember that the American public school system was built on the belief that local communities cherish their children and have the right and responsibility, within sensible limits, to determine how they are schooled.
  • While the federal government has a very special role in ensuring that our students do not experience discrimination based on who they are or what their disability might be, Congress is not a National School Board.
  • Although our locally elected school boards may not be perfect, they represent one of the purest forms of democracy that we have. Bad ideas in the small do damage in the small and are easily corrected. Bad ideas at the federal level result in massive failure and are harder to fix.
  • Please understand that I do not dismiss the need to hold schools accountable.  The use and disaggregation of data has been an important tool that I use regularly as a principal to improve my own school.  However, the unintended, negative consequences that have arisen from mandated, annual testing and its high stakes uses have proven testing not only to be an ineffective tool, but a destructive one as well.


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