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Is Congress ready to leave 'No Child Left Behind' behind?

Lawmakers are working to overhaul the controversial education bill amid a growing backlash against the emphasis on standardized testing in schools.

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President George W. Bush signs into law a sweeping federal education bill that will require new reading and math tests, seek to close the education gap between rich and poor students and raise teacher standards, Jan. 8, 2002, at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio.

Ron Edmonds/AP/File

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A bipartisan team of lawmakers has agreed to overhaul the No Child Left Behind education law, a set of federal education standards which have provoked fierce debate since their introduction in 2001. 

Although the exact changes to the law are still unknown, standardized testing would still be required for grades three through eight, and once in high school, NPR, reports.

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Remarks from a speech given by Education Secretary Arne Duncan in January might offer some other clues.

Mr. Duncan spoke about how important “a strong start in life through high-quality preschool” is, and the necessity of “[working] with Congress [and the states] to … review and streamline the tests they are giving and eliminate redundant and unnecessary tests.”

According to an October report by the Council of Great City Schools – a committee of superintendents and school-board members that oversee the 66 largest urban school districts in America – 20 to 25 hours are spent on some kind of testing at each grade level, or 4.22 days out of every school year.

Many teachers and parents are beginning to protest what they perceive as a culture of “over-testing” in the public school system.

In April, The Christian Science Monitor reported on a group of parents in Boulder, Colorado who began keeping their elementary-age children from taking that state’s annual assessment measures, after getting support from other parents and the go-ahead from teachers.

"The feedback I got was that only when an educated group of parents takes a stand against this colossal waste of time will anything change," one parent told the Monitor.

In October President Obama announced that the Department of Education would work with Congress and the states to limit the amount of tests students are required to take.

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“Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble,’’ Mr. Obama said in a video posted on Facebook. ‘‘So we’re going to work with states, school districts, teachers and parents to make sure that we’re not obsessing about testing.’’

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” Duncan told The New York Times. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”