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House narrowly passes education bill, with Idaho reps in favor; includes testing opt-out

Congress is in the midst of its effort to reauthorize the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, which hasn’t been reauthorized since 2001, when the far-reaching and now politically unpopular No Child Left Behind law became law, reports Idaho Education News. The House passed its version of a new ESEA by a narrow margin on Wednesday evening, writes EdNews reporter Kevin Richert, with both Idaho Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson voting in favor; meanwhile, the Senate is working through its version of a bill. The process won’t be done until the two houses agree on something, and find something the president will support and sign into law.

Richert’s full report is online here, including links to national reports and news on an amendment the House approved last night, enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized testing. The House’s bill is dubbed the “Student Success Act.”

Inslee pushing for testing to keep federal money

Inslee urges Legislature to approve student testing bill.

OLYMPIA — The Legislature should approve a bill requiring statewide testing in an effort to keep $40 million in federal funding for local schools, Gov. Jay Inslee said today.

Speaking at a press conference while teachers opposed to testing requirements were filling the halls outside the legislative chambers, Inslee said he does not "have the luxury" of getting into a philosophical discussion about the value of standardized testing. To have any chance to keep federal money from the No Child Left Behind program, the state should pass a law that requires that by the 2017-18 school year, students' scores on statewide tests are used as at least part the way teachers are evaluated. 

Collective bargaining agreements and local school boards would be able to determine how the tests are used, Inslee said.

Federal education rules require standardized statewide tests to receive the money; state law currently says those tests can be used, but doesn't say the must be used, causing the U.S. Department of Education to say it will cancel the money. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has not given "an absolute guarantee" the state will get a waiver and continue to receive the money before 2017-18, Inslee said, but added: "I'm highly confident we will."

A bill to require testing died recently in the Senate when most Democrats joined with the chamber's more conservative Republicans to kill it. Opponents said they had heard from teachers, administrators and school boards in their districts concerned about the time and expense of additional testing on top of new evaluation procedures.

State, school districts at odds over lengthy year-end test set for spring

The state and several of its largest school districts are at odds about using a new, eight-hour exam on Idaho’s third-through 11th-grade students this spring, Idaho Education News reports; the districts want to rely on other year-end tests, including the SAT – which all Idaho 11th graders already are taking at state expense – rather than go with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test in a year when it essentially will be just a test of the test, and won’t provide useful student data. You can read reporter Kevin Richert’s full report here.

He notes that the disagreement has nothing to do with the Idaho Core Standards themselves, new math and English language arts standards that are designed to encourage critical thinking and emphasize writing skills. Idaho schools have begun teaching to the standards this year.

Idaho gets clearance to start new tests next year, replace ISAT

Idaho’s gotten clearance from the country’s top education official to start field-testing its new high-stakes tests for students next year, and stop administering the Idaho Standards Achievement Test to avoid double-testing kids, except in cases where a student needs to take the ISAT to meet a graduate requirement, Idaho Education News reports. State schools Superintendent Tom Luna told Idaho EdNews, “This is just one more step as we transition to higher standards and new assessments. Under current law, it appears we have to give two tests to every student next year, and we’ve made it clear we’re not giving two – we’re giving one – because of student fatigue a number of other factors.”

The new tests developed through the Smarter Balanced Assessments Consortium, are aimed at moving beyond multiple-choice questions to focus on fluency in a subject and critical thinking skills. This year, about 120 Idaho schools piloted the new tests. You can read Idaho EdNews’ full report here.