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State Loses Testing Appeal

The U.S. Department of Education Tuesday turned down Connecticut's request to be exempted from an expansion of school testing required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

State officials had asked for a waiver from a requirement that all students in grades 3 through 8 be given annual tests in reading and mathematics, saying the extra tests would cost millions of dollars without any benefit.

A report to be issued today by the state Department of Education says additional federal funding under the No Child Left Behind Act will fall more than $40 million short by 2008 of what is needed to fulfill requirements of the law.

For 20 years, Connecticut has given its mastery test to children in grades 4, 6 and 8, but it will expand the test to grades 3, 5 and 7 next year to comply with the federal law.

Although federal officials said they will discuss Connecticut's request for more flexibility in interpreting the law on questions such as how to test special education students, they will not back away from the testing requirement.

"We do not believe the real benefits of No Child Left Behind can be realized without annual testing," Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Raymond Simon said. "We do want to work together with the states, but there are certain things that are not negotiable."

Simon is scheduled to address the state Board of Education today to discuss the No Child Left Behind Act. The 3-year-old law, the centerpiece of President Bush's school reform agenda, focuses heavily on annual testing and calls for a shake-up of schools that fail to meet academic standards.

Connecticut spends more than $4 million a year on its mastery test. The state will get additional money from the federal government to expand testing, but today's education department report says that by 2008, federal support will fall $41.6 million short - taking into account staff time and other expenses related to expanding testing, providing help to low-performing schools and meeting other requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Simon defended the level of funding, citing figures showing that federal support under No Child Left Behind will exceed $190 million in Connecticut this year - an increase of nearly 41 percent since 2001.

In a letter received by state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg Tuesday, new U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said annual testing is necessary in grades 3 through 8 to monitor the performance of groups such as black and Hispanic children, whose scores generally are lower than those of non-Hispanic white children.

"You cannot remedy weaknesses you do not know about," Spellings wrote.

"I have to admit I'm disappointed by [her] answer," Sternberg said. "I was hoping for a real discussion on why it is we think it makes sense to [test] every other year."

— Robert A. Frahm
Hartford Courant


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