DC Shuttle: Washington Moves on Higher Ed Reauthorization, Common Core Assessments

Congress considers renewal of the Higher Education Act. Momentum is slowly building to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) with college costs and student debt under bipartisan scrutiny. The most recent reauthorization of the HEA passed in 2008 and expires in 2014. On Thursday, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on reauthorization. It is the first of 12 hearings to be held regarding the HEA. Teacher colleges have been targeted by the Obama administration and members of Congress to be held accountable for their graduates once they graduate and enter the classroom. The HEA governs major college-access programs, including Pell Grants, and programs that help prepare disadvantaged students for postsecondary work, such as GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), TRIO and Upward Bound. Last month, President Obama called for developing a college-rating system to help prospective students navigate postsecondary options. The ratings would be based on access, including the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, affordability, including average tuition and loan debt and outcomes, including graduation and graduate earnings. The system could be used to tie tens of billions of dollars in federal student aid to college performance. On Friday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee held a hearing on career and technical education and training programs.

Common core testing flexibility. The Department of Education announced that it will give states the chance to suspend some or all of their current tests in mathematics and English/language arts for the 2013-14 school year, as new tests are experimented with. The department also released a policy guidance letter from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and a letter from Deborah Delisle. To obtain the “double-testing flexibility,” states must give their own tests or experimental tests of new common-core assessments being designed by state consortia, to 95% of their students in grades 3-8 and one grade in high school, as federal rules require. Each student must take a full-length test, either their state’s current test or the new tests, in both math and English/language arts. States are considering a range of responses to the offer of flexibility, including a mix of the new tests and their own tests. Currently, states are struggling to administer their own tests along with the new experimental tests being designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. A state wishing to request the field-test flexibility must submit its request to the Department of Education by Nov. 22.

We publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of Sept. 23, 2013.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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