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Coalition Urges End to Standardized Tests for Chapter 1

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WASHINGTON--Standardized, norm-referenced tests should no longer be used to measure the achievement of Chapter 1 students, a coalition of education and civil-rights groups urged last week.

The program should rely instead on "classroom-based observation and documentation assessments,'' such as student portfolios, the coalition said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the General Accounting Office has released a study supporting what observers have described as a consensus among educators that the current testing and "program improvement'' process under Chapter 1 needs a substantial overhaul.

While federal law suggests the use of multiple measures, states and districts usually assess Chapter 1 programs' performance based "solely or unconditionally'' on achievement-test scores, the G.A.O. found.

When the scores of Chapter 1 students fail to show sufficient gains, schools are required to enter a program-improvement process that can lead to state intervention.

The report suggests requiring use of multiple indicators and allowing states to propose how they would be weighed for accountability purposes.

The reliance on test scores sometimes results in targeting--or not targeting--schools because of "fluctuation'' in scores, the report says, adding that pressure to increase scores "may have a negative effect on Chapter 1 instruction.''

Classroom-Based Assessments

In its statement last week, the National Forum on Assessment proposed that classroom-based assessment of individual Chapter 1 students be supplemented by state accountability systems that "are built upon, use, complement, and monitor'' those assessments.

Norm-referenced tests should not be required, the coalition proposed, and should be barred before grade 4.

State officials could monitor the performance of Chapter 1 programs by "sampling'' student portfolios or through other "curriculum-embedded tasks,'' representatives of coalition groups told reporters. The state assessment systems would be linked to performance standards applicable to all students, they said.

Rather than setting a minimum national standard, federal officials "would review assessment programs to see that they validly, accurately measure kids' progress toward those standards,'' said Ramsay W. Selden, the director of the state educational-assessment center at the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Proponents acknowledged that performance-based assessment has not been tried on a large scale, and could not be put in place immediately. Moreover, they said, the new assessments would cost more and would not yield nationally comparable achievement data.

Chapter 1 students could be sampled as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, coalition officials suggested, adding that a lapse in assessment would be preferable to continuing the current Chapter 1 testing system.

"Nothing is better than what you have now,'' said Monty Neill, the associate director of the Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest. "Within five years, we can have assessment that can meet both good practice and accountability purposes.''

Also endorsing the statement were the National Education Association, the National PTA, the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the ASPIRA Association, the National Council for the Social Studies, the Southern Early Childhood Association, and the Council for Basic Education.

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