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Advocates Fear Plan To Curb ‘Teaching To The Test’ May Backfire

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Days after disability advocates expressed concerns over a plan to reauthorize the nation’s primary education law, a second proposal released Tuesday is also taking heat.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, introduced legislation Tuesday to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. In a major departure from the original law, Harkin wants to scrap requirements that schools meet certain achievement standards, a provision known as adequate yearly progress. Instead, the bill would mandate that students show improvement.

“By getting rid of overly burdensome adequate yearly progress sanctions, this bill removes the pressure that many argued resulted in ‘teaching to the test,'” Harkin wrote in an op-ed in Politico.

But the proposed shift in accountability is rankling advocates for people with disabilities and minority students.

“The loss of goals and progress targets would dismantle the positive aspects of NCLB’s accountability system and be a significant step backward that we can ill afford to take,” wrote representatives of six civil rights and advocacy groups including the National Center for Learning Disabilities in a letter to Harkin and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., who also worked on the proposal.

“Your proposal contains much that could help low-income students, students with disabilities, students of color and English-language learners. But without goals and progress targets it is all but impossible to ensure that these good intentions will actually add up to better outcomes for students,” the groups said.

The concerns come just days after more than three dozen disability organizations wrote to Senate Republicans criticizing a separate proposal to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.

Under the Republican plan, an unlimited number of students with “the most significant cognitive disabilities” would be held to different academic standards and would be allowed to take alternate achievement tests. Advocates are worried that the proposal would lead to large numbers of students with disabilities, who are currently expected to perform at grade level, taking modified exams instead.

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