Proposals for Overhauling NCLB

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner - July 2008

Efforts to influence the direction of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) continue, though Congressional action has stalled for this year. Of particular note, the Forum for Education and Democracy (FED) issued Democracy at Risk: The Need for a New Federal Policy in Education. FairTest's Monty Neill article on overhauling NCLB appeared in Rethinking Schools, and the Economic Policy Institute sponsored a position statement saying the nation must look beyond schools if learning outcomes are to improve.


FED, convened by 14 noted education leaders, including FairTest board members Deborah Meier and Judith Browne-Dianis, launched a call for basic changes in federal education law. The group criticizes the high-stakes testing that dominates assessment under NCLB. Their report says the federal government should "support the development of performance based assessments" as part of a more comprehensive effort to strengthen teaching and learning. It also urges the federal government to make a larger investment in public schools to pay off the "education debt" accumulated in centuries of race and class inequality.


FED's recommendations often parallel those of the FairTest-chaired Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), of which FED is a part. FED released its report on the 25th anniversary of A Nation at Risk, the document that launched test-based accountability and culminated in NCLB.

- Democracy at Risk is available at

- FEA documents, including the influential Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, now signed by 144 organizations, is available at and

In "Beyond NCLB," FairTest's Monty Neill explains how NCLB actually worsens the "achievement gap" and other educational problems. Because NCLB fails to grapple with the accumulated social inequities that underlie differential learning outcomes (the "education debt" as Gloria Ladsen-Billings terms it), it offers "solutions" that do not work. NCLB defines success solely as test results and then attaches punishments to the failure to boost scores. This damages educational opportunity by pressuring schools to focus overwhelmingly on "basic skills" test preparation. As a result, children do not obtain the range of knowledge and skills they need for success in life. Neill’s recommendations for a new federal law build on the ideas in the Joint Statement and reports from the Forum on Educational Accountability.

- Available in the Spring 2008 Rethinking Schools and at RS is very much worth a subscription.

The Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, published in major newspapers a large ad featuring A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, signed by dozens of prominent individuals representing a wide range of fields and views on education. The statement argues that the nation needs a wider approach than focusing just on schools to ensure sustained improvement in educational outcomes. It notes NCLB's "flawed accountability system" and recommends a mix of methods to evaluate schools. The statement calls for expanded pre-school, larger investments in pediatric health care, and greater attention to the time students spend out of school. Some signers of this document, including former George W. Bush’s former Assistant Education Secretary Susan Neuman, have been strong supporters of test-based accountability, while others have been very critical of that approach and of NCLB

- The Statement is available at