Sen. Brown introduces federal bills on testing, achievement gap

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Seeking to improve public education, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) recently introduced the SMART Act to streamline and improve testing practices, and the CORE Act to bridge the student achievement gap.

In advance of Senate consideration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Brown cosponsored the Support Making Assessments Reliable and Timely (SMART) Act, which would help states ensure statewide and local assessments are reliable and timely, while eliminating outdated or duplicative tests. In a continued effort to address inequities that undermine learning and to help students bridge the achievement gap, Brown introduced the Core Opportunity Resources for Equity and Excellence (CORE) Act. The CORE Act would tackle existing disparities in public education by establishing accountability requirements that compel states and school districts to give all students equitable access to the core resources necessary to achieve college and career readiness by high school graduation.

“Annual testing can be a useful yard stick to measure student achievement,” Brown said. “But too often our students are inundated with duplicative tests. Excessive testing discourages learning and impedes instruction. That’s why the SMART Act is so important. By aligning tests so that instruction is not interrupted, teachers will remain accountable and parents can rest assured that their children are not undergoing duplicative testing.”

The SMART Act – introduced by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1) – is aimed at improving mandatory state assessments to ensure they are efficiently and accurately measuring students’ progress and teacher effectiveness.

Specifically, the legislation would update an existing grant formula to assist states and local education agencies in aligning testing materials to college- and career-ready standards. The funding can also be used to speed delivery of test data to educators and parents – providing more time for educators to design instruction based on test results. Additionally, states can undertake audits of existing practices to eliminate unnecessary assessments, design more effective systems, and amplify effectiveness of remaining exams to support educators. Download a one-pager.

"We are pleased to see that Senator Brown is introducing legislation that will bring common sense to testing," said Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “Our students and teachers are overwhelmed by testing. What we need are assessments that inform but allow teachers to teach and students to learn. Senator Brown's bill is an excellent starting point.”

In addition to the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the bill has broad support – including endorsements from the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Education Trust, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCR), the Center for American Progress, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and the National Council of La Raza.

CORE - In a continued effort to address inequities that undermine learning and to help students bridge the achievement gap, Brown and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced the CORE Act

“The quality of our children’s education shouldn’t be determined by their zip code,” Brown said. “But too many teachers and schools lack the resources to ensure students can grow and succeed. That’s why this bill is so important – not just to close the achievement gap but also to raise the bar for all of America’s students. The CORE Act would ensuring every child receives the opportunities they deserve by improving access to prepared teachers, better curricula, and ultimately, the chance students need to grow and succeed.”
In March 2014, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights published data from a comprehensive survey of schools across the nation, which illustrated the magnitude of the educational opportunity gaps that exist for students in the United States.  The survey found that Black, Latino, American Indian, and Native Alaskan students, as well as students who are English learners, attend schools with higher concentrations of inexperienced teachers.  The survey also found that nationwide, one in five high schools lack a school counselor, and between 10 and 25 percent of high schools do not offer more than one of the core courses in high school math and science, such as Algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry.
The CORE Act has been supported by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education; the American Federation of Teachers; the American Library Association; the National Education Association; Opportunity Action; the First Focus Campaign for Children; the League of United Latin American Citizens; and the Coalition for Community Schools, among others.

The bill will establish accountability standards for states and school districts, requiring that they provide fair and equitable access to the core resources for learning.  These resources include:

  • High quality instructional teams, including licensed and profession-ready teachers, principals, school librarians, counselors, and education support staff;
  • Rigorous academic standards and curricula that lead to college and career readiness by high school graduation, and are accessible to all students, including students with disabilities and English learners;
  • Equitable and instructionally appropriate class sizes;
  • Up-to-date instructional materials, technology, and supplies;
  • Effective school library programs;
  • School facilities and technology, including physically and environmentally sound buildings and well-equipped instruction spaces;
  • Specialized instructional support teams, such as counselors, social workers, nurses, and other qualified professionals; and
  • Effective family and community engagement programs.

Under the CORE Act, state accountability systems would be required to include measures of fair and equitable access to the core resources for learning, as well as a plan for identifying and addressing any inequities in access to them.  Information about access to these resources would also be reflected on state and district report cards.  States that fail to make progress in eliminating disparities for two or more consecutive years would be ineligible to participate in competitive grant programs authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  For school districts identified for improvement, the state would have to identify gaps in access to the core resources for learning and develop an action plan in partnership with the local school district to address those gaps.

Reed and Brown previously introduced the CORE Act in June 2014 during the 113th Congress. A companion to the legislation will once again be introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH).