February 1, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
NEW HAVEN -- Is the federal government
going back on its promise to pay for the additional student testing
required under President Bush's school reform law, or are Connecticut's
tests simply more expensive than necessary?
That is a central question facing a
federal judge who will decide whether to dismiss Connecticut's lawsuit
against the federal No Child Left Behind Act or to let the case
U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz
grilled state officials Tuesday on whether the Connecticut's expansion
of its multimillion-dollar annual Mastery Test program does more
than the federal law actually requires. That is the federal government's
claim in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Kravitz asked state Attorney General
Richard Blumenthal to amend the state's complaint to answer whether
federal funding is adequate to meet at least minimum standards outlined
by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.
Blumenthal filed the lawsuit against
Spellings last summer, calling the federal law an unfunded mandate
and contending that it will unfairly cost state and local taxpayers
hundreds of millions of dollars.
Educators and politicians across the
nation are watching the case closely to gauge its impact on the
most sweeping federal education law in 30 years. The law calls for
a broad expansion of testing and a shake-up of schools that fail
to make progress with all students, including low-income children,
special education students and members of minority groups.
Kravitz peppered lawyers for both sides
with questions during a five-hour hearing Tuesday. He ordered the
state to file its amended complaint by Feb. 28; then the federal
government has until March 30 to reply.
For 20 years, Connecticut has tested
children in grades four, six and eight, but No Child Left Behind
also requires testing in grades three, five and seven - an expansion
that state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg contends will
cost millions of dollars more with little additional benefit.
The federal government, however, says
the additional expenses incurred by Connecticut are the result of
the state's own decision to reject a less expensive form of testing.
State officials plan to include a section
on writing in the new tests, as well as other questions requiring
written answers, although the federal government only requires tests
of reading and mathematics.
Kravitz asked, for example, whether
the state claims it has insufficient federal funding if it were
to administer only a simplified exam with multiple-choice answers
for grades three, five and seven.
Federal officials say there is enough
money to do that, but state education officials contend there is
not. Blumenthal told the judge that state officials also believes
simplifying the test, as suggested by Spellings, would interfere
with school curriculum.
"There's always the option of
dumbing down our tests to the point where we believe they would
be inadequate, and we're not willing to do that," Blumenthal
U.S. Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth
Goitein asserted that Connecticut is giving a more expensive test
than the law requires, and is using estimates of those expenses
to escape its obligations under No Child Left Behind.
Like other states, Connecticut has
seen a sharp increase in federal education funding under the Bush
administration, but state officials contend the extra money does
not cover the full cost of improvements required under No Child
The state will get about $178 million
this school year in federal grants related to the law, about 25
percent more than the $142 million it received in 2002, the year
the federal law was signed.
Even with that increased funding,
a study by the state Department of Education estimates that the
additional testing will cost Connecticut taxpayers another $8 million
over the next two years.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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