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Advisory Panel Presents National-Test Plan to Bush

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Washington--Members of the President's advisory committee on education policy met with him last week and presented majority support for a proposal to create national standards and tests to measure student performance.

Mr. Bush met with the panelists for 50 minutes at the White House on Thursday, the same day as the start of Operation Desert Storm.

William T. Brock, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor and a panel member, said that the President was "very interested" in the proposal and "asked a lot of questions," but that he made "no commitments."

Panel members have been moving toward support for some type of national examination system over the past several months. The meeting with Mr. Bush marked the latest stage in that effort. (See Education Week, Dec. 5, 1990.)

The panelists' discussion with the President included a dissenting view presented by Joe Nathan, a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Mr. Nathan has argued that the creation of a national testing system would be a "serious mistake" and cost too much money.

The panelists' oral presentation to the President was based on a "discussion draft" that will be revised and sent to Roger B. Porter, the White House domestic-policy adviser, within the next few weeks.

The draft, presented by the panel's chairman, Paul H. O'Neill, chief executive officer of the Aluminum Company of America, calls for the creation of high, national standards in the areas of English, mathematics, science, history, geography, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. Such standards--to be developed with "maximum consensus" among experts in the field--would define the skills and knowledge to be learned at various ages and grade levels, beginning at age 9.

The draft urges the President, working with the governors, to "facilitate" the definition of the new standards, which would be as high as any worldwide.

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In addition, it calls on him to "cause to be developed" at least two tests that would reflect the standards. "Existing tests appropriately modified to measure the new standards and yield comparable data might also be appropriate," it states.

The plan also urges Mr. Bush to create and issue a "regular report'' that would inform parents and school officials on how well existing state tests reflect the new national standards.

Once such standards are devised, the document notes, a campaign by businesses, the public sector, and other interest groups should be mounted to help promote them.

During his meeting with the panelists, Mr. Bush also asked questions about the effect of school-choice programs on low-income children and those from broken homes.

In the past few weeks, rumors have been circulating that the Administration will propose new federal funding to help promote school choice in its budget for fiscal year 1992, perhaps as part of a revised Educational Excellence Act. Final decisions have not been made on the specifics of the proposal, according to Administration sources.

Some have even suggested that the President might highlight school choice in his State of the Union Message. But White House sources said last week that it was impossible to predict what would go into that message, particularly given the war in the Persian Gulf.

During another part of the meeting, apart from the session with the President, panelists were asked to present their views on education activities that Mr. Bush might pro mote in the coming year.

Several panelists were remarkably candid about Mr. Bush's lapsed image as the nation's educational leader.

"The President, in my opinion, needs to re-establish himself as the 'education President,"' said Modesto Maidique, president of Florida International University, referring to Mr. Bush's 1988 campaign pledge to assume that role.

"There is more humor associated with him being the education President than admiration," Mr. Maidique said, "and somehow he has to re gain credibility."

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Among other steps, panelists recommended that Mr. Bush devote a significant share of his State of the Union Message to education; identify more clearly what the federal government can do in terms of incentives, money, and policy; initiate greater collaboration on behalf of children among the Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor; and begin to focus more on the process for meeting the national education goals established last February.

"We need to look right now beyond the bully pulpit," said Marvin L. Esch, president of The Communications Group in Ann Arbor, Mich., and another panel member. "We ought to begin to have the President focus on the process."

Mr. Maidique also suggested that Mr. Bush needs to regain some round with members of the minority community, particularly blacks and Hispanics.

"The President's credibility has been strained by the entire scholar ship fiasco," he said, referring to the controversial moves by the Education Department to curtail race-exclusive college grants. That view was shared by several other members. Panelists praised the President for nominating former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as the next Secretary of Education. Mr. Alexander, who is a member of the panel, attended most of the meeting but refrained from making many comments in light of his upcoming confirmation hearings.

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