State: Cheaper Tests Still Would Exceed Federal Funding
March 1, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Even if Connecticut were to cheapen
its statewide school testing program, the cost of meeting a federal
school reform law still would exceed the level of federal support,
state officials said Tuesday in a legal brief.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal
filed the brief with U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz, who is
overseeing a state lawsuit challenging the cost of the No Child
Left Behind Act.
The state contends that the federal government is going back on
its promise to pay for additional student testing required under
the act, but U.S. officials argue that Connecticut's tests are simply
more expensive than necessary.
The U.S. Department of Education has
suggested that Connecticut streamline its test and offer a less
expensive version that would include only multiple-choice questions,
but Blumenthal said even a simpler test would cost about $4 million
more than what the federal government provides.
"No matter how you mince words
or rework the math, the federal government is breaking the law -
grossly shortchanging Connecticut in education funding," Blumenthal
Blumenthal filed the suit against U.S.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings last summer, calling the
federal law an unfunded mandate that will unfairly cost state and
local taxpayers millions of dollars. The federal government has
filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the case.
For 20 years, Connecticut has tested
children in grades 4, 6 and 8, but No Child Left Behind also requires
testing in grades 3, 5 and 7 - an expansion that state Education
Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg contends will cost millions of dollars
more with little benefit.
Sternberg so far has refused to simplify
the tests, as suggested by federal officials. Connecticut's Mastery
Test, which is being given statewide beginning this week, includes
a combination of multiple-choice questions and open-ended questions
that require written answers. The open-ended questions are considerably
more expensive to develop and score.
The state also includes a writing test
for all test-takers even though the federal law requires testing
only in reading and mathematics.
According to Tuesday's legal brief,
this spring's expanded test program will cost about $14.4 million,
well above the $5.8 million from the federal government for expanding
the test. Even a scaled-down version of the test would cost about
$9.9 million, Blumenthal told the court.
Educators and politicians across
the nation are watching the case closely to gauge its impact on
the No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President Bush's
school reform agenda. 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.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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