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By All Measures: First Results From National Education Tests

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For Immediate Release
September 1998:

Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Albert Shanker announced the state scores on all major subject-area tests included in the National Education Test Battery, developed under contract to the Educational Testing Service. The data were deeply disturbing, revealing major achievement differences between and among states, and between inner cities and their suburbs.

Generally, the data showed that the higher the state's per-capita income, and the greater the percentage of adults in the state who were college graduates, the higher the scores on all subject areas. In a similar way, urban schools (low income, few adults who are college graduates) were consistently below suburban schools (high income, high numbers of college graduates). Suburban minority students whose parents were college graduates performed about at the level of whites from similar backgrounds. Economic status was a far better predictor of scores than ethnicity.

Educators generally were underwhelmed by the results. As early as 1992, these results were predicted in education journals. The data are presented in a non-diagnostic format, meaning that the major function of any assessment--to improve performance--will not be possible. The enormous diversity of the American people by region, ethnicity, and class was ignored.

Business leaders and state-government executives cheered the results as leading to a nationally controlled curriculum (even though the federal government is funding only a tiny fraction).

"This is the end of local control with all its diversity, vagueness, and ambiguity, and the beginning of a more businesslike, top-down system, in which orders given out in Washington will be obeyed (and paid for) by state and local leadership,'' said President Ross Perot. In response to a reporter's question about inequities between rich and poor states and districts, the President remarked: "We need to look at the whole system, not the components. Now that most voters and jobs are in suburbs, we can run America's schools without major concern for the cities. If the 40 percent of America's kids who are in rural and urban poverty really want to improve, all they have to do is work harder. As former President Bush knew so well, education is mostly politics.''

Harold Hodgkinson is director of the Center for Demographic Policy at the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington.

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