Spellings also said it is "un-American, I would call it, for us to take the attitude that African-American children in Connecticut living in inner cities are not going to be able to compete, are not going to be prepared to compete, in this world and are not going to be educated to high levels.
"That's the notion, the soft bigotry of low expectations, as the president calls it, that No Child Left Behind rejects."
In a letter sent Monday to Spellings, Sternberg wrote that she and others in the state do not take such an "attitude" toward the achievement gap between black students and others.
She said analysis of Connecticut Mastery Test scores over the past five years show that the achievement of the state's black and Hispanic students increased at greater rates than the achievement of the state's white students, and that students in the seven poorest cities and towns also improved at a faster rate than their peers in wealthier towns.
Sternberg said Connecticut has not been trying to find a "loophole" in asking Spellings to ease some of No Child Left Behind's specific requirements, such as the requirement that there be annual standardized testing from grades 3 through 8.
Connecticut has for many years tested students in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10, but next year will have to add testing in grades 3, 5, and 7 to meet the federal law's requirements. Spellings rejected Sternberg's request that the state be allowed to continue standardized testing every other year.
"How often we administer statewide tests for purposes of accountability is a practice, not a principle," Sternberg wrote with emphasis Monday.
She said Spellings was wrong to say on the NewsHour program that Connecticut is claiming it is not ready to start giving the tests in grades 3, 5, and 7.
Sternberg said the state has done the work necessary to prepare for the tests' administration and is one of only five states in the country that are on track to fully implement No Child Left Behind's requirements.
"On a very personal note, I must tell you as a Jewish American whose family was deeply affected by the pogroms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and later by the Holocaust, bigotry is never "soft,'" Sternberg wrote.
"Bigotry always has a hard edge. It is simply outrageous that you would accuse me and my associates of "the soft bigotry of low expectations.'"
Spellings' comments came two days after state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced his intention to sue the U.S. Department of Education for not giving Connecticut enough funding to implement No Child Left Behind, which he said is illegal and unconstitutional.
A U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman told the Associated Press that Sternberg had taken Spellings' remarks out of context.
"It's pretty clear the secretary's comments have been taken out of context, and her point was simply that all students -- regardless of income, race, disability, or where they live -- can learn and deserve the opportunity to learn," Susan Aspey said.