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Monty Neill, associate director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, in Cambridge, Mass.

Most observers agree that schooling for about one-third of U.S. students is particularly inadequate. Education for this group, largely poor and disproportionately children of color, is controlled by testing. Their classes are often reduced to coaching for low-level, biased exams. Life-determining decisions are constantly made on the basis of these flawed instruments and then the same instruments are used to justify those decisions.

Testing proponents maintain that more testing will produce high-quality education, particularly for those at the bottom. But as the National Assessment of Educational Progress results have shown, nothing of the kind has occurred.

Now we are told that a national performance-based assessment system, based on high standards, will do the job. Never mind that there is no commitment to enable teachers and students, particularly in poor areas, to develop the kinds of learning activities that the new assessments will measure. Never mind that the feasibility of constructing fair assessments on a large scale remains to be demonstrated. Never mind that no evidence yet exists that high-stakes decisions can fairly and validly be made with such assessments. And never mind that a host of practices of very mixed intent and quality are being lumped under the rubric of performance assessment.

I agree that assessment must change, and I support performance assessment. But assessments must be integrated with wider school reform, resources must be adequate, and the assessments must be constructed to allow for the complex social diversity of our nation.

Rather than authorizing a national exam system of any kind, the Congress should assist in the development of new assessments at the classroom, district, and state levels and require that issues of bias and educational usefulness be addressed. That is the best way to assure that assessment becomes socially responsible and accountable.

Susan Bailey, director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women.

Every consideration should be given to educational equity in establishing any system of standards and assessments. But, it is disturbing to see that we are still phrasing questions of equity in a manner that implies that equity is an add-on rather than an integral part of an excellent education.

National standards that are uniform--and uniformly high--can help. But standards set from "outside'' will have a negligible impact on students, teachers, parents, or educational administrators, who feel they are viewed as part of the problem rather than as participants in formulating solutions. It is, after all, the answers to our own questions from which we learn the most.

National standards will be compatible with equitable education only if they are developed by groups representing the strength and diversity of entire communities, rather than by a narrowly defined "panel of experts.'' We must work toward local consensus if we are to reach national standards. Equity must be built in; it cannot be added on.

Mary Hatwood Futrell, senior fellow, George Washington University, and senior consultant at the Quality Education for Minorities Network.

I agree that we need a consensus in this country about the educational standards students are expected to meet and better ways to assess whether they have been achieved. However, we cannot gloss over the fact that enormous inequities exist within and among schools, school districts, and states. These inequities include facilities, curricular offerings, instructional materials, staffing, class size, and other areas. Any hope of implementing national standards and a system of examinations for students must also focus on the delivery standards that school systems will be required to meet. In other words, if students and teachers are expected to meet predetermined standards, then we must make sure that all are competing on as level a playing field as possible.

James E. Ysseldyke and Martha L. Thurlow, director and assistant director of the National Center on Education Outcomes, in Minneapolis.

Ever since President Bush and the governors first affirmed that the national education goals are for "all'' students in America, inclusive terminology has been repeated by the Secretary of Education, the National Education Goals Panel, and the National Council on Education Standards and Testing.

According to the most recent Condition of Education, American students include 9 million children (20 percent of total enrollment) below the poverty level, 13.5 million children (30 percent of total enrollment) from non-Caucasian racial and ethnic groups, 1 million children (2 percent of total enrollment) who have limited English proficiency, and 4.5 million children (10 percent) who have disabilities that require some type of special educational services. This new mixture of student characteristics requires that we pay attention to the meaning of the term "all'' when we talk about standards and assessments.

Many advocates, parents, educators, and others are telling us that "all'' means all. To us, this means that standards and assessments must be considered in light of all students in the American educational system. We can no longer simply assert that if students are limited in their English proficiency or have a mental disability, for example, they need not meet national educational goals, or that we do not need to measure their success toward those goals. Our schools must be held accountable for the education of all students. Standards that we set should apply to all students. This may mean that they have to be broadened to reflect competencies beyond academics, but broader standards can apply to all students. Assessments must be adapted so that all students can meet standards in the same way they would be required to in real-life situations.

In what directions should standards be broadened to include outcomes that are relevant to all students? What accommodations will be allowed as students attempt to reach established standards (and as we evaluate the extent to which standards have been met)? Answers to these questions will not come easily. Yet they must be sought if our standards and assessments are to be equitable. Our nation must assume that equitable standards and assessments are the only kind acceptable. And, our nation must recognize that exclusion and non-accommodation for special groups do not produce equitable standards and assessments.

Samuel G. Sava, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Instead of spending millions on standards and tests, let's help children and their families. Let's give every child a chance to go to a good public preschool, free of charge. Let's keep class size low in the critical early grades. Let's make sure kids have enough nutritious food to eat, basic innoculations, and health care. Let's care for them after school, so they don't leave school for an empty home. Let's help at-risk children with special tutoring and mentoring programs.

Mary Bicouvaris, 1989 National Teacher of the Year, now teaching at a private school in Newport News, Va.

Allowing our concern for equity to dampen the effort towards national standards is an unwise position to a fundamental idea--the idea that all American children in all of America's schools must be taught with standards agreed upon by national consensus, by the professionals in each subject area, and must be tested in each subject in order to measure the student's competency in that discipline.

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