Standards Council Deadlocked Over Plan for Oversight Body
By Robert Rothman
WASHINGTON--With less than a month to go before the deadline for submitting its final report, the National Council on Education Standards and Testing remained deadlocked last week over a critical issue: whether to recommend the creation of a new body to oversee the development of standards and assessments.
At their meeting here last week, council members resolved an earlier dispute by agreeing to create a method to develop standards for schools and school systems, as well as for students.
The panel also adopted a set of elements that would constitute a proposed national assessment system.
In discussing the governance structure for the new system, however, members agreed that some form of oversight is necessary, but they split over which entity should perform that function.
Several members, including Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, the council's co-chairman, argued that a new entity should be created to provide national leadership on the issue.
"This would give a signal to the nation that this is the most important business we are about," Governor Romer said.
But other members argued that a new entity would duplicate and possibly usurp the standards-setting activities already under way by subject-matter groups and other agencies.
And, in a stern warning, Senator Orrin G. Hatch told the panel that a call for a new oversight body would attract strong opposition in the Congress and might doom the entire enterprise.
"Create a new federal agency in [an election year]? My gracious!" the Utah Republican said. "If we do that, everything we try to de in the council will be caught up in a political mishmash."
Rather than create a new body, Senator Hatch added, the panel could propose that the Education Department perform the oversight functions.
Others argued that the National Education Goals Panel could fulfill that purpose, provided it is reconstituted to include Congressional representatives as voting members.
The standards council is expected to continue discussing the issue privately in hopes of reaching a compromise before its next meeting, on Dec. 16, at which members expect to review a draft report. The report is scheduled to be released by year's end.
No 'National Accreditation'
Created in June by the Congress and the goals panel to report on the desirability and feasibility of national standards in school subjects and of assessments to gauge progress against such standards, the 32-member council has repeatedly played out its debates in public.
In October, for example, the panel debated a proposal to recommend a set of systemic education reforms, amid concerns that it was exceeding its Congressional mandate. (See Education Week, Oct. 30, 1991.) And last month, the council divided sharply over whether to propose national standards for what schools should do to ensure that students meet standards for performance. (See Education Week, Nov. 27, 1991 .)
At last week's meeting, members agreed to a compromise on the school-standards issue. Under their agreement, states would be encouraged to collectively develop criteria for assessing schools' capacity for educating students in the subject matter set out in the standards for student performance. States could then choose which data to report.
"These criteria are left to state determination, because we recognize there is more than one way to provide education," Mr. Romer said. "We do not want the standards used as national accreditation for schools."
The panel also agreed to propose standards for school-system performance, which it defined as "evidence about the success of schools, local school systems, states, and the nation in bringing all students-leaving no one behind--to the highest performance standards."
New Assessment System
Turning to the proposed assessment system, the council reached a consensus that such a program should include two parts: a test of a sample of students, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, that would monitor the effectiveness of educational programs, and an individual-student assessment system that would provide student-achievement information to students, parents, and teachers.
Panelists also agreed that all the assessments should be aligned to the same set of subject-matter standards, and that the assessments should be comparable to one another.
To assist states in developing new assessments, the panel urged that federal funds be made available, and that states pool their efforts.
"That's a good idea," said Governor Romer. "We ought to encourage people to try it if it works."