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Despite Legislation's Death, Panel To Name Test Council

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WASHINGTON--Despite the lack of a Congressional go-ahead, the National Education Goals Panel plans next month to establish a council to oversee the development of national subject-area standards and a related system of assessments, panel officials said last week.

Legislation to create such a council, which was part of an omnibus school-improvement bill, died in the waning days of the 102nd Congress.

But members of the goals panel, noting that both chambers had passed versions of the legislation, said that the death of the bill does not represent a setback in the effort to establish a set of voluntary national standards and assessments intended to help raise the achievement of American students.

"The panel does not view this as a negative mandate,'' said Andrew F. Cunningham, an aide to Gov. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the panel's chairman. "It was not a rejection of the idea of the importance of a national body that can work with the goals panel to certify standards and assessments.''

Diane S. Ravitch, the assistant secretary of education for educational research and improvement, also noted that efforts to develop standards and assessments are already under way and will continue despite the lack of Congressional authorization. The Education Department has funded projects to create standards in six subject areas--it is expected this week to announce an award for a seventh--and states are moving to revamp their assessment systems, Ms. Ravitch pointed out.

But Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said such efforts would lack force without Congressional backing.

And, he added, Congress is unlikely to relinquish control over federal activity on standards and testing after the vociferous debate on the issue that took place this year.

"I can't imagine that any action by the goals panel or the department on standards and assessment from here on out is going to proceed without very, very close cooperation, indeed approval, by Congress,'' Mr. Ambach said. "In the alternative, Congress will step in and block it.''

The death of the bill was a "real setback,'' he said.

Echoed Recommendations

The legislation to create the standards-and-assessment council was largely based on the recommendations of the National Council on Education Standards and Testing, a panel established by Congress and the goals panel to study the desirability and feasibility of national standards and assessments.

Under the bill, a council of public officials, educators, and members of the general public would have been established to oversee the development of content and student-performance standards in key subjects; school-delivery standards to insure that schools provide the opportunity for students to attain the standards; and assessments, tied to the standards, in mathematics and science.

The council, together with the goals panel--a group of governors, Administration officials, and members of Congress charged with monitoring progress toward the national education goals--would have been given the authority to approve the standards and criteria for certifying assessments as "world class.''

Try Again Next Year

Wilmer S. Cody, the executive director of the goals panel, noted that the panel in July had adopted a preliminary charter for the council, but had deferred naming the members until Congress acted.

"It was postponed in the hopes Congress would join in the partnership,'' he said. "Congress was not able to do so, so the panel will go forward anyway.''

But Mr. Cody suggested that the panel, which is expected to meet Nov. 24 or 25, may reconsider its position in the wake of the Presidential election.

And, said Mr. Cunningham, the goals panel intends to seek Congressional authorization for the council next year.

"I would assume the consensus of the panel remains that Congressional backing remains a better way of making this a national mandate,'' Mr. Cunningham said.

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