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UFT pair testifies at federal hearing on testing

New York Teacher
Pamela Wolfe

Manhattan teachers Jia Lee of the Earth School and Stephen Lazar of Harvest Collegiate HS testify at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on how testing and accountability should be redefined in the federal law that provides funding for K–12 education nationwide.

Two New York City public school teachers testified before a U.S. Senate committee on how testing and accountability should be redefined in the federal law that provides funding for K–12 education nationwide.

The education committee hearing on Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C., was the first since Republicans took control of both houses of Congress and comes as the Obama administration is making a major push to reauthorize the law, which lapsed seven years ago.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the committee, was the education secretary under the first President Bush. He has put forth a draft bill that would give states the option of choosing how often to test and what kinds of assessments they use, or continuing with the yearly standardized tests in reading and math in grades 3–8 but without tying scores to teacher evaluations.

Stephen Lazar, a teacher and founder of the Harvest Collegiate HS in Manhattan, told the committee that it was time to ditch the high-stakes model that has not served teachers or students well.

“Right now the federal incentives in education are wrong,” he said. “We need better and more diverse assessments, and we need to remove high stakes and accountability from those assessments.”

Lazar proposed limiting the number of tests and moving them from June to September, when teachers can use them to inform instruction. He also told the committee that federal funds should be invested in developing better assessments.

Jia Lee, a special education teacher at the Earth School in Manhattan, where 50 percent of parents opted their children out of Common Core assessments last spring, also criticized the current testing regime.

“Testing has taken valuable time and resources away from programs,” said Lee. “We have no librarian at our school, and no funding in our budget for the arts.”

Despite the bipartisan veneer of the committee, there were meaningful disagreements.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, criticized the Republican proposal for failing to hold states accountable for how they spend federal education dollars. Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, echoed that concern. He said he feared that under the Republican draft bill, Title I funds earmarked for low-income students would be spent on other things.

Alexander said the committee hoped to finish its work by the end of February and have a bill on the floor shortly after.