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Education Groups Sit Out Test Lobbying

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National testing may be the top education priority for President Clinton, but it sure isn't for some education groups that lobby Congress.

Mr. Clinton's proposal for voluntary student tests in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math was still fighting for its life last week on Capitol Hill. But few school associations have been glad-handing and muscle-flexing in support of itaside from the Council of Chief State School Officers, which has worked with the administration.

Kathleen Lyons, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association, said last week that while the nea backs the president's proposal, "it's unfair to say it's our number-one priority."

Rather, she said, opposing school vouchers and supporting campaign-finance reform have occupied more of the energies of the 2.3 million-member union, which has been a staunch backer of Mr. Clinton and other Democrats. That makes the national tests "a medium-level priority for us," Ms. Lyons said.

Bronx Cheer

Meanwhile, across the Potomac River in suburban Virginia, five out of 10 advisory committees of the American Association of School Administrators last month gave the testing idea a Bronx cheer. Two more panels greeted it with something betwixt love and hate. As a result, Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the Arlington-based superintendents' group, said last week that he was sitting this one out. "I'm not spending any time at all on the thing," he said of Mr. Clinton's testing plan. "It is a very low priority for us."

On top of the advisory groups' mixed reviews, the tests got a thumbs down from an unrelated committee recommending topics for the annual AASA convention.

"What we got was a firestorm of comment that I think reflects what you hear around America," Mr. Hunter said.

The testing topic came up at a gathering of AASA's governing and advisory committees on Sept. 20-21--before the Department of Education announced it had temporarily suspended development of the tests and before three big-city districts reversed themselves and pulled out of the reading test. ("Riley Delays National Tests' Development," Oct. 1, 1997.)

Then last week, Diana Lam, the superintendent of the San Antonio district, which has many Spanish-speaking students and had originally signed on to the testing initiative, said her district will not give the reading test if it is offered only in English.

"People are dubious about the tests as a school improvement measure," said Mr. Hunter of his group, which has 15,000 members. "But nobody wants to be seen as opposing accountability" for how well students perform. In that vein, the AASA's executive committee endorsed the national tests on the condition that they be valid, reliable, and cost-effective, he said.

"There's an inclination to support the thing," he said of the testing plan, "but with the understanding that it's probably not going to amount to much."

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