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Bush Panel Members Endorse Readiness Assessment

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Washington--Members of President Bush's education-policy advisory panel last week endorsed the creation of a national "readiness examination" to determine if children are educationally and medically prepared to enter kindergarten.

Meeting here a week before the National Education Goals Panel was scheduled to decide what its first "report card" would look like, the President's panel discussed ways progress toward the six national goals should be measured.

In addition to calling for the readiness assessment, panel members proposed that a national student-assessment system be used to improve instruction, as well as to hold educators accountable for student progress. But they failed to agree on whether one test could accomplish both of those aims, or if separate tests might be needed.

The group also remained divided over whether the goal to create safe and drug-free schools would require testing all students to determine if they were drug-free, or measuring whether schools were free of drugs.

Paul H. O'Neill, chairman of the panel, said the measures the goals panel selects could be the most important decisions the group makes in determining whether the nation has made progress toward the goals set by Mr. Bush and the nation's governors.

"The issue of how we measure national goals is a critical issue," said Mr. O'Neill, chief executive officer of the Aluminum Company of America.

"If the measures selected are not the right ones, we're likely to achieve the wrong things," he said. "We're likely to make progress on what we measure."

The education-goals panel, which is composed of governors and members of the Administration, has been holding hearings over the past two months to gauge public opinion on its plan to create a report card to measure progress toward the goals.

The meeting of the President's advisory panel last week was aimed at allowing the advisory-group members--who include educators, business leaders, and public officials--to present their views on the subject.

Breaking into three groups to discuss two goals each, the panel debated the issues and presented a report to the full panel.

Although they are not expected to issue a formal report outlining their recommendations, the advisory panelists' discussions did reach the ears of the goals panel: Two of the Bush panel's members--Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and Roger B. Porter, the President's domestic-policy adviser--are also members of the goals panel.

In arguing for a school-readiness assessment, the advisory panel said such a measure would help teachers and parents determine children's appropriate educational setting, according to former Secretary of Labor William E. Brock, a panel member.

"There are children who are not going to be ready for kindergarten,'' he said. "By finding this out at an earlier stage, we can address their needsel10lmore constructively than we do by throwing them into kindergarten."

The panel members also noted that ensuring that children are ready to enter school is the responsibility of several federal agencies, not just the Education Department, and they urged the agencies to coordinate their efforts to achieve that goal.

And, they suggested, the federal government should consider requiring parents receiving welfare, housing, nutritional, and other benefits to make efforts to ensure their children are ready for school.

"As a condition of the receipt of funds people get from the federal government, even the states," said Mr. Brock, "they should be required to undertake certain things for children," such as ensuring that they receive vaccinations and taking an active role in their education.

In endorsing a national student-assessment system to gauge achievement, particularly in mathematics and science, the panel members stressed that such a system should be used to direct attention to areas where students need help.

Without such an assurance, said Secretary Alexander, "people in the back of the line will be afraid this is one more trick to keep them there."

Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board, said such a testing system may need to be separate from one that monitors school, district, and state progress.

But Mr. Alexander suggested that a single examination could simultaneously provide information to help students, as well as data on school performance.

"Why shouldn't the same exam be able to tell you both?" he asked.

The members also differed on the desirability of measuring whether students or schools are drug-free.

Joe Nathan, director of the center for school change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said measuring students' drug use could unfairly reflect on school administrators.

"When I was a school administrator, I did a lot of things to keep drugs out of my school," he said. "I should not be held accountable for what kids do on weekends."

But Carolyn R. Bacon, executive director of the O'Donnell Foundation, said measuring student drug use would focus attention on the problem of drug abuse.

"It's not necessarily a problem for schools to solve," she said. "If drugs come into the community, they come into schools."

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