In 2002, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law was enacted to help combat what then-President George W. Bush called the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” While we’ve made some progress, we continue to fight that battle today as our public education system struggles to educate each and every American student to high standards.

Lawmakers have rightly made reauthorizing NCLB an urgent national priority. Although some revisions to the original law are in order, core provisions must remain to protect those whom the law was enacted to serve in the first place.

» Annual assessments must continue. Testing students on a regular basis is the best way to measure learning, and it’s the most effective way to provide parents, teachers, lawmakers and administrators with information on student achievement. Let’s be clear. The federal law only requires students to be tested once or twice a year. Concern about over-testing is driven by local and state policies, not by Washington.

» Data must be reported to the public. NCLB requires states to disaggregate data by subgroups of students so that we know which students need help. Before NCLB, we didn’t know how African-American or Hispanic students were performing compared with their white peers, or how low-income students fared against their more affluent classmates. Armed with data on student performance, we can better address shortcomings and underserved groups.

» Schools must be held accountable. This is the provision in the current law that may be the most controversial and in greatest need of tweaking. As it stands, accountability is directed from Washington, and we believe states should have flexibility in developing their systems. But make no mistake — there must be strong state accountability systems with expectations for improving achievement as well as interventions when schools fall short for all students or groups of students. This is not only sound fiscal management of taxpayer dollars but also sound public policy.

These ideas formed the basis of the 2002 law. And although it’s popular in many corners to deride the law, the data are clear — low-income children and children of color have made the fastest improvements in achievement since 1980. Adjustments need to be made to lessen the mandates from Washington, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We need to keep what is effective and make the necessary improvements to ensure that the law and our education system are working for all Americans. A positive difference has been made in the lives of millions of kids since NCLB was first enacted. Let’s not return to a time when these students were left in the shadows.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.