House Committee Approves Bill To Create Testing Panel
Washington--The House Education and Labor Committee last week unanimously approved legislation to create a "National Council on Education Standards and Testing," after the Bush Administration agreed that the council would study the "feasibility and desirability" of a national testing program.
Lawmakers said an accord on the council's mandate was reached the day before the vote, when Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander met with them to defuse the latest dispute between the Congress and the Administration over educational assessment.
On May 31, the National Education Goals Panel--which was established by the Administration and the National Governors' Association to monitor progress toward the education goals they adopted jointly last year--had announced that it was forming a similar council on its own, but with a different charge.
The goals panel has tacitly endorsed national testing in the course of its efforts to design a "report card," and the Administration has explicitly committed itself to support high-stakes testing as part of its "America 2000" education strategy.
Therefore, the testing council was to assume that a national test was desirable and address only the question of how one could be created.
In response to the impending announcement, Representative Dale Kildee, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, introduced HR 2435, 4which was approved by a divided subcommittee on May 30.
Mr. Kildee's original bill called for a council with a majority of Congressional appointees, which was to study the wisdom of national testing as well as how it might be implemented.
Reliability, Fairness Probed
The compromise subsequently approved by the full committee retains the Kildee bill's mandate, and adds specific instructions to evaluate "the validity, reliability, fairness, and costs" of a national testing system. It authorizes $1 million in federal funds for the council, and requires public meetings.3
The amended bill would essentially allow the Congress to name four additional members to the goals panel's council, one each for party leaders in each chamber. The members already named include four Ad ministration officials, four members of the Congress, educators, and state and local education officials.
The council is to be chaired jointly by Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, chairman of the national goals panel, and Gov. Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, who is expected to assume the chairmanship of the goals panel this summer. (See box on opposite page.)
"I think this makes Congress a part of the action," Mr. Kildee said, acknowledging that lawmakers have felt left out of the goals-setting process. "It is not only productive for this bill, but sets a good precedent for cooperation between Congress and the executive branch on education."
"This is an important gesture of bipartisan support by the Congress to work with the President and the governors on development of an American achievement test," Mr. Alexander said in a statement.
While a roll-call vote on the compromise version of the bill was unanimous, however, several committee members made it clear that they had not yet been persuaded to support national testing.
Representative Major R. Owens, Democrat of New York, led off the criticism, arguing that expert opinion should have been gathered before "the appointment of a political body."
"I think we should pause to consider what we will do when this re port comes back," Mr. Owens said. "Let's not have a situation where we're testing students and blaming students and that's all."
Several members, including Mr. Kildee and Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the committee's ranking Republican and a member of the testing council, said they had similar misgivings.
"We do not intend to give these people the authority to start testing," Representative William D. Ford, the Michigan Democrat who is the committee's chairman, assured reluctant members. "We are not accepting the inevitability, the feasibility, or the desirability of testing."
Mr. Ford and Mr. Kildee said they would seek floor action on HR 2435 this week, and hope to win quick Senate approval. They also said they would hold hearings on their own on the subject of national testing.