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Senate committee to examine testing in schools
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled Senate education panel is beginning its revision of the landmark No Child Left Behind education law, focusing first on the thorny issue of federally mandated testing of America's schoolchildren.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has said an important question is whether there's too much testing in U.S. schools, and that he's open to discussion on whether the federal government should dictate standardized testing or leave it up to states.

No Child Left Behind, signed into law by President George W. Bush, was primarily designed to help poor and minority children and mandated annual testing in reading and math for all students in grades three to eight and again in high school. Schools had to show annual growth or face consequences.

The requirement has been credited with shining a light on how schools handle minorities, low-income students, English learners and special-needs children, but it led to complaints that teachers were teaching to standardized tests. President Barack Obama since 2012 has allowed states to get a waiver from some of the more stringent requirements of the law, but he has steadfastly supported the annual testing requirement as a way to chart student growth and track how historically underserved groups are doing.

The testing requirement is also backed by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the committee's ranking Democrat, but isn't supported by some Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who think testing shouldn't be dictated by the federal government.

Alexander, a former secretary of education, says he wants to get a bill to update the law to Obama in the first months of the year. Much of the debate will likely focus on the federal government's role in improving failing schools.

The law has been due to be renewed since 2007. All sides agree it needs to be fixed, but they have failed to come together to do so. In 2013, the House passed a bill without support from Democrats that would've turned much control over to states, but it retained the annual testing requirement.