Education chief backs expansion of testing
New York Times
Jul. 9, 2005
Michael Janofsky
WASHINGTON - Margaret Spellings, the Education secretary, suggested on Friday that the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires that public-school children be tested in reading and math, could be expanded to include other subjects.

"I am a strong believer in this 'what gets measured gets done' kind of notion," Spellings told members of the American Federation of Teachers.

While she was referring to testing for science, which begins in two years, she added, "It helps the system figure out what we need to do, where and when. . . . And so we need to round out the system a little more."

Expanding the federal testing requirements to include subjects beyond reading, math and science, however, would appear to require Congress to amend the law.

Spellings' comments came in a rare unscripted event for a senior member of the Bush administration. She shared a stage with the union president, Edward J. McElroy, who posed questions based on written queries submitted in advance by teachers.

Describing himself as a union president eager to forge a friendly working relationship with Spellings and her staff, McElroy was largely solicitous of his guest.

His deferential manner came a day after his keynote speech to the union in which he said teachers were expressing "incredible frustration" with the No Child Left Behind law "because of the way it's been implemented." Three-quarters of teachers responding to a recent union survey expressed unhappiness with the law, he said, telling the audience, "I hear it from experienced teachers at the top of their game, from newcomers whose excitement is dimming all too quickly and from all sorts of teachers in between."

Yet McElroy conveyed little of that discomfort in his dialogue with Spellings in an apparent effort to keep her appearance more conversational than confrontational.

Spellings told the audience "No Child Left Behind is working." She asserted that children with special needs were getting the attention they required and that the goals of the program were achievable, saying, "We just have to dial down some of the anxiety about it."

For the coming school year, states are required to test all children in grades three through eight and those in the 10th, 11th or 12th in reading and math. By the 2007-08 school year, states must be ready to begin testing children in science once for grades three through five, six through nine and then 10 through 12.

The possibility that testing might expand arose as McElroy asked Spellings to respond to criticism from teachers that an emphasis on math and reading was undermining the quality of education in other subjects, like civics and languages.

"I've heard that before about the testing issue," she replied, adding, "In many ways, we're in the infancy of accountability and education in our country."

Speaking to reporters later, Spellings said the ability to expand testing depended upon refining the process of how children are measured.

"A good measuring system can assess Lance Armstrong's fitness or a couch potato's," she said. "As we get smarter about this, we can go into more subject areas, more skill areas."