Testimony – NCLB

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member McKeon, members of the Committee, thank you for inviting the National Governors Association (NGA) to testify today.

My name is Joan Wodiska, and I am the Director of NGA’s Education, Early Childhood and Workforce Committee. I am pleased to be here on behalf of the nation’s governors to discuss NGA’s perspective on the need to reauthorize No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the recently released discussion draft of Title I.

The reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act comes at a time of significant economic and global change, and provides a critical opportunity for all levels of government to renew our commitment to high standards and partner together to strengthen education.

According to a recent nationwide public opinion poll conducted by Dr. Frank Luntz for the nation’s governors, 9 out of 10 Americans-Democrats and Republicans alike-believe that if our nation fails to innovate, our children and our economy will be left behind. And while Americans believe we have the most innovative nation in the world at the moment-ahead of China and Japan-they see America losing ground in 20 years. Why? According to the poll, Americans believe that other nations are more committed to education. America’s economic future is inextricably linked to education and the public’s perception of our education system. Simply put, America cannot lead the new global economy if our education system is lagging behind.

Our nation has a powerful incentive to improve the education pipeline. In the next decade, two-thirds of new jobs will require some postsecondary education beyond a high school degree. To be competitive and create the conditions for strong economic growth, states need to help all of their residents increase their skills and be prepared for lifelong learning. Much is at stake.

Governors Call on Congress to Reauthorize NCLB
No Child Left Behind is a landmark piece of federal education policy that brought transparency and accountability to our nation’s public schools. NCLB provided an important framework for states, schools, and parents to focus on student achievement and ensure our nation’s competitiveness. Governors call on Congress to refine and reauthorize this important law.

Governors are committed to ensuring that every student succeeds-not just some students, most students, or the “bright” students. Governors believe that education policy must improve student learning and enable all students to reach academic proficiency. Through disaggregated data, annual testing, and transparency, NCLB is helping states and schools focus on student academic achievement and, ultimately, close the achievement gap.

Governors’ litmus test for NCLB and any proposed changes to the law is simple and straightforward: Does it help improve student learning? Any changes should adhere to this principle and not unnecessarily limit states’ or schools’ ability to teach and prepare every child for success.

Governors are encouraged by a number of the proposed modifications in the initial discussion draft of Title I. At the same time, they continue to review proposed changes that could potentially slow or reverse state progress in education or constrain school reform efforts. Governors believe that the Committee can adequately address these concerns as it moves forward through the process.

Areas of Support
Governors are encouraged by the following modifications that appear consistent with NGA’s NCLB recommendations:

  • allowing growth models;
  • differentiated consequences;
  • classification of the Priority/High Priority school designations;
  • providing flexibility to assess students with disabilities;
  • recognizing success and supporting proactive solutions;
  • a reformed peer review process; and
  • the proposal of a uniform, disaggregated graduation rate.

With regard to high school reform and a common high school graduation rate, several years ago governors led the difficult and important work of redesigning America’s high schools. This work can and should be supported through the reauthorization of NCLB to ensure that every student graduates from high school prepared to compete in a global economy. Governors are pleased that the proposed high school graduation rate is consistent with the NGA High School Compact that was endorsed by 48 governors. The discussion draft allows states to utilize an interim alternative high school graduation rate, allows for exceptions for special education diplomas and alternative education settings, and provides flexibility through alternative targets. However, governors urge the Committee to work with NGA to further refine the timeframe, targets, and how to most appropriately use the five year graduation rate for accountability purposes.

Areas of Concern
Role of Governors/States: Governors are concerned that the discussion draft does not adequately recognize the role of governors and states in education. Specifically, the law needs to recognize “governors” as well as state education agencies as valued partners in education reform. The bill should support a stronger relationship between governors, state education agencies, school districts, and schools to achieve transformational change of our education system and to help all students achieve proficiency.

Education is primarily and properly a state responsibility. Elementary and secondary education is broadly defined in state constitutions, specified in state law, and implemented by school districts. Governors, not the federal government, are constitutionally responsible for the education of their citizens. Governors must maintain the authority to oversee the operation of education in their states. Despite this fact, the discussion draft does not recognize the leading role of governors in education reform.

NCLB was intended to provide a framework for accountability. NCLB should build upon existing sound state education laws and practices, including the use of existing state assessments to determine student progress. For this reason, state best practices and innovation should drive and inform federal policy, not the other way around.

To this end, NCLB needs to empower states, and schools, to learn what works best to improve and support student achievement. NCLB can support sound state education practices and reinforce state and local control by incorporating language that (1) reinforces the role of states (including governors and other state officials); (2) allows other activities, solutions, or strategies “as identified by the state”; and (3) recognizes that provisions must be “consistent with state law.”

Governors strongly support the use of accountability, but the measures, systems, and solutions must be determined at the state level, not by the federal government. Maximum flexibility in designing state accountability systems, including testing, is critical to preserve the amalgamation of federal funding, local control of educating, and state responsibility for system-wide reform. In short, NCLB must recognize that one-size-does-not-fit-all and that the nation’s governors are a powerful leverage point to reform education.

Special Education: According to the discussion draft, a declassified special education student would remain in the special education subgroup for three years after moving out of the subgroup. Governors are concerned that this provision will seriously undermine accountability and state progress to raise academic standards for students with disabilities. The discussion draft would also federally require states to develop three different assessments for students with disabilities. The cost and feasibility of this federal mandate are unclear. NGA encourages Congress to refrain from mandating any additional federal testing requirements and to allow states to determine the appropriate test instrument to assess student performance.

English Language Learners (ELLs): Governors appreciate the provision giving states the flexibility to test the English language proficiency of new English Language Learners, the ability to appropriately reflect student performance gains, and to have those scores count for accountability purposes. Governors also appreciate the recognition that the development of new assessment tools is costly and will take time.

While these are improvements in the current law, the discussion draft would also require states to develop assessments in the native language for a group of ELLs that compose at least 10% of the school population, and may test any ELL student for up to seven years in their native language. Governors are concerned that the federal requirement to assess students in their native language and the provision to allow assessment in a native language for up to seven years conflicts with the goal of obtaining proficiency in English. In some states, ELLs are being taught exclusively in English. Research is clear that students should be tested in the language in which they are taught. The cost, feasibility, and validity of this federal mandate are also unclear. NGA urges Congress to allow states to retain the authority to determine the appropriate test instrument to assess student performance.

State Penalties: States would lose 25% of administrative funding if ELL and special education assessments are not available within two years of passage of the bill. Governors are concerned that this penalty would punish states and further hinder the development of valid and reliable assessment tools.

School Improvement and Assistance Programs: According to the discussion draft, local education agencies (LEAs) would be required to develop detailed school improvement plans, subject to peer review by individuals chosen from the LEA. While governors are encouraged by the concept of developing school improvement plans, states are concerned by the prescriptive nature of the plans, the lack of a relationship to or oversight by the state education agency, and the need for a third party objective peer review process. In particular, NGA is concerned that the overly prescriptive data requirements on local schools may result in “paralysis by analysis” rather than empowering schools to focus on key contributors to student and teacher success. Governors are also concerned that struggling schools may lack the capacity to develop strategies that will turn around their schools.

NGA encourages Congress to work with Governors to significantly improve this section of the discussion draft. The discussion draft should build upon state established priorities and research-based strategies that work to improve student achievement and teacher capacity.

Longitudinal Data Systems: According to the discussion draft, states would be required to create federally prescribed longitudinal data systems to monitor student academic progress across grades, despite the fact that many states already have existing data systems. Longitudinal data systems are an essential tool in states’ efforts to close the achievement gap. Governors recognize the importance of these information systems for diagnosing performance and determining appropriate solutions; however, governors are concerned that an insufficient amount of funding and time will be available to develop and institute these costly systems, and that existing systems may need to be unjustifiably modified.

The discussion draft is unnecessarily prescriptive including its treatment of existing data systems, requiring states to form committees, requiring the federal government to certify state data systems with independent audits, and penalizing states for failure to implement such systems. While governors believe that data systems must secure students’ privacy rights, the draft legislation interferes with states’ need to use student data for legitimate educational purposes.

States are making substantial progress in building data systems to monitor student progress from early education to college or beyond. In 2006, only 13 states had data systems in place to calculate a four-year, longitudinal graduation rate; now 29 states can do so. However, states need more resources and time to finish this work.

Additional Gubernatorial Priorities
As part of their efforts to improve the competitiveness of states and the nation, the nation’s governors have identified a number of additional priorities that the Committee should consider as part of its reauthorization of NCLB.

Voluntary International Benchmarking: The discussion draft proposes that the National Academy of Sciences evaluate state standards. This proposal falls short of the recommendations proposed by the nation’s governors to help ensure that our students will be internationally competitive. As the Chairman of NGA, Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota would say, students no longer compete against their peers in neighboring cities or even states-our students must compete in the global economy. Unfortunately, neither the NCLB discussion draft nor the recently signed into law America COMPETES Act addresses governors’ recommendation to assist states voluntarily benchmark state standards to skills measured on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) or Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

State P-16 Councils: Governors also support of the creation of state P-16 councils. P-16 councils are innovative and a proven best practice that should be accelerated across all states. Several of the major advantages of state P-16 councils include:

  • smoothing student transitions from one level of learning to the next, e.g. high school to college;
  • aligning teacher preparation with the demands of today’s and tomorrow’s classrooms;
  • reducing costly administrative inefficiencies, duplication, or inconsistencies;
  • identifying and fixing holes in the education pipeline; and
  • closing the achievement gap and improving outcomes for all students.

Most notably, state P-16 councils are critical to help prepare students for postsecondary education. Specifically, state P-16 councils can:

  • identify the skill gaps for students to prepare and be successful in higher education;
  • redesign high school graduation standards to match college entrance requirements;
  • target for improvement schools that produce students with high remediation rates; and
  • improve student postsecondary success and attainment rates.

Additional Areas of Consideration: The nation’s governors also care about and are reviewing several other provisions in the discussion draft including the proposed standard N-size, teacher quality and premium pay, a system of multiple measures, the alignment of state standards and assessments to college or work readiness, and the Graduation Promise Fund. Governors continue to review these areas of interest and intend to follow-up with the Committee during the legislative process.

When I was a child, my mother said to me, “Anything worth doing is hard. And anything not hard, probably isn’t worth much.” Education reform is difficult; it is also worth doing. Governors learned a lot since the passage of NCLB about what works and what needed to be reformed. The last few years were filled with both challenges and opportunities as we moved to improve education for our nation’s students. However, work remains to achieve our national goal of helping every student succeed.

Governors are encouraged by the Committee’s efforts to reauthorize NCLB in a timely manner. Across the country, governors stand ready to work with Congress and the Administration to refine and reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act.