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Ex-Chief Sanders Defends Use of 'Imperfect' Data

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Washington--When the first "wall chart" was unveiled in 1984, educators attacked the Education Department's use of college-entrance-test scores to make comparisons among disparate states, arguing that the scores alone are not a fair and accurate measure.

The Council of Chief State School Officers heatedly debated the issue at a meeting later that year, with many members expressing fear that comparisons could lead to loss of revenue and local control over education in states that fared poorly.

The divided organization voted 27 to 12 to participate in developing better indicators, largely because members felt that the popularity of the "wall chart" made4them inevitable. (See Education Week, Nov. 21, 1984.)

This year, one ed official attending the wall-chart news conference happened to be a 10-year member of the council and its immediate past president. But Undersecretary Ted Sanders, who defended the wall chart in an interview last week, said he did not see any conflict between the two roles.

"I don't think there's much of a difference in perspective," he said. "The questions are, 'Should we be looking at some kind of performance indicators, and are the indicators we have up to the task?"'

"The answer to the first question is 'yes,"' Mr. Sanders said, adding that, as the chief state school officer in Nevada and later in Illinois, he had proposed instituting state "report cards" comparing school districts' achievement.

The answer to the second question is "no," Mr. Sanders said. That is why both the department and the state chiefs, he added, are working to improve the way educational achievement is measured.

"Too much time ought not be spent quarreling with the adequacy of the data, but should rather be spent tending to what it is that those data suggest," he said, noting that the wall chart does not contradict findings from other assessments.

"Just because the data aren't perfect doesn't mean we shouldn't use them," he said.--jm

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