Time Magazine: Getting Testy over Tests

from Time magazine, June 7, 2002
A surefire way to commit political suicide a few months ago was to oppose more school testing. The name of the landmark education bill President Bush signed in January — the No Child Left Behind Act — reflected the prevailing mood: to resist standardized tests was to desert kids. The legislation, which mandates annual testing in Grades 3 through 8, passed overwhelmingly. But as state legislatures sew up their budgets and students dive into year-end exams, a change is afoot — the sacred cow of school testing is getting tested itself.
The Governor of Vermont has taken the most dramatic stance: Democrat Howard Dean said he would be willing to forgo $25 million in federal Title I funds in order to avoid the expense and annoyance of carrying out the new legislation. That's a position he's allowed to take under the law, which ties a state's Title I dollars to adoption of the bill's accountability standards. "Our school system here is a good deal better than most, and we got that way by holding schools accountable our way," says Dean, who is expected to run for President in 2004. Dean says the cost of complying with the law may far outweigh the money the Federal Government provides in exchange. He has asked superintendents in Vermont to report back with an estimate.
In Los Angeles the school board voted to explore alternatives to — and possibly abandon — California's state test, the Stanford 9; San Francisco is weighing a similar measure. School officials in Cleveland, Ohio, dropped from 16 to 13 the number of tests required from kindergarten through eighth grade. And in Nebraska, a state with an unusual assessment system that mixes state exams with more flexible local tests, the education commissioner, Doug Christensen, says he's convinced he can comply with the No Child Left Behind Act and maintain the state's current testing program. "We're hoping we can get out of that 'testing every year' part that starts in 2005," says Christensen. "We don't believe in testing kids to death."
The stepped-up criticism of the law and its requirements is to be expected, says U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary Eugene Hickok. "Implementation is always more painful than rhetoric," he says. "But there will be no backing off." Washington sounds defiant, and so do some educators and politicians in the states. Looks like the fight is on.