Senate Panel Advances Education Bill

WASHINGTON, April 16 – Vermont and other states would have much more control over how public schools are held accountable for student performance under legislation that a Senate panel approved today.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a member of the Senate education committee, helped draft the measure to replace the much-maligned No Child Left Behind education law which   inaccurately stigmatized most Vermont schools for supposedly low performance.

Vermonters at town meetings had told Sanders the 2001 Bush-era law – which graded performance based on annual reading and math tests – unfairly punished students and teachers in one of the nation’s best school systems.

“I think it is wrong to judge schools solely on the basis of narrow tests. We have to work on what kind of criteria we really need,” Sanders said. “What we in Vermont understand is a kid is more than a test. We want kids to be creative. We want kids to be critical thinkers. We also want schools held accountable for factors other than test scores, including how they meet the challenges of students from low-income families.”

The new measure adopted by the Senate committee would include a pilot program which could help Vermont shift from annual standardized tests to a new system for assessing student performance. Also under the legislation, factors such as student engagement and teacher effectiveness could become criteria in assessing school performance. Vermont education officials had made those changes their No. 1 priority. 

Other changes in the bill that would help Vermont include a new formula for rural school funding that could steer an extra $1.3 million a year in federal funds to the state.

The measure also would protect the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides about $5.5 million a year to run afterschool programs in Vermont.