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In an effort to give schoolchildren an exercise in "character education,'' the Education Department is joining other federal agencies in promoting a nationwide campaign to clean up public land, including schools and playgrounds.

The goal of the "Take Pride in America'' campaign, spearheaded by the Interior Department, is to draw attention to the importance of preserving public property, officials said.

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett will send a letter to public and private elementary and secondary schools to urge their participation in "Take Pride in America'' week, May 17-23, according to Peter Greer, the department's deputy undersecretary for intergovernmental and interagency affairs.

Regional representatives will be responsible for sharing the best project ideas from schools in their districts, he said, but students' involvement in the campaign could be as simple as removing discarded paper from their own school grounds and surrounding areas.

"Integrity, respect, and courage need to be better understood by teachers and students,'' Mr. Greer said, explaining that the department's interest in the campaign reflected Mr. Bennett's emphasis on such values in education.

The campaign is being managed by the Advertising Council, a nonprofit organization that prepares and distributes public-service announcements.

The Education Department would be required to create a universal achievement test for high-school seniors under a bill introduced by Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island.

The bill, a new version of a similar measure sponsored by Mr. Pell nearly 20 years ago, would give public school districts and private schools the option of participating in the examination, which would be paid for by the federal government.

Under Mr. Pell's bill, students who passed the test would receive certificates from the Secretary of Education. "The legislation I am submitting would give us the mechanism to achieve a comparative measurement of student achievement,'' Mr. Pell said in a Senate speech this month.

He said his bill was a response to the recommendations of a study group led by former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee that considered reforms in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The panel, appointed by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, recommended expanding NAEP to cover more subjects and said the assessment should include state-by-state comparisons of testing results.

Mr. Pell noted that his proposal is narrower than the recommendations in the study group's report. But, he said, the data collected through his test could be more "expansive'' if most school districts agreed to participate.

The Education Department has not yet taken a formal position on Mr. Pell's proposal, a spokesman for the department said.

"We share Senator Pell's concern about improving the assessment of American education,'' the spokesman added. "And we hope we can work together to devise an acceptable piece of legislation to accomplish that.''

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