Washington--A House subcommittee last week approved a bill that would create a bipartisan council to study “the feasibility and desirability” of establishing national education standards and a national testing program based on the standards.
That action may set up yet another political confrontation over the control and direction of educational assessment between the Congress and the Bush Administration.
The Administration and the National Governors’ Association are prepared to move more quickly to establish national tests. The National Education Goals Panel, which the Administration and the nga set up to monitor progress toward the education goals they adopted last year, is expected to announce this week the appointment of an interim council on standards and testing to suggest how such tests could be developed.
The council is to have 25 to 27 members appointed by the goals pan4el’s chairman and vice chairman, Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, a Democrat, and Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. of South Carolina, a Republican.
The goals panel’s council would be composed of state-based appointees, according to Nikki McNamee, an aide to Governor Campbell.
Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, both Republicans, are also to sit on the council.
In contrast, HR 2435, which is sponsored by Representative Dale E. Kildee, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, calls for a council with five members appointed by the Speaker of the House; five by the majority leader of the Senate; three by the minority leader of each body; and eight members, of whom no more than six can be Republicans, appointed by the Secretary of Education.
The bill authorizes $1 million for the effort, which requires the 24-member council to report its find8ings by the end of the year.
But the more significant difference is one of purpose. The Congressional panel would examine the desirability of national standards and testing,which some key lawmakers have expressed grave reservations about.
The goals panel’s council, on the other hand, would consider desirability a foregone conclusion and instead address the question of what needs to be done to establish a fair, substantive national test.
“We feel we’ve been working on answers to those questions [of desirability] for a year and a half,” said Ms. McNamee. “We see no reason to reinvent the wheel.”
Mr. Kildee’s bill did not pass through his subcommittee as smoothly as he would have liked. It was sent to the full Education and Labor Committee on a voice vote that was not unanimous.
Mr. Goodling, the ranking Republican on both the subcommittee and the full committee, voted against the bill, despite his well-known doubts about the wisdom of emphasizing standardized testing. “If we pursue the collision course, we’ll end up on the sidelines,” he said.
Representative Steve Gunderson, Republican of Wisconsin, informed Mr. Kildee of the Administration’s opposition to the bill.
“We’ll look forward to some accommodation, and if not, we’ll deal with that later on,” Mr. Gunderson said.
In an interview, the Education Department’s spokesman, Etta Fielek, called the bill “unnecessary.”
Mr. Kildee said he hoped some middle ground could be found between the Congress and the Administration and the governors, noting that he rewrote his bill after conversing with Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander.
“I did not claim that this bill was written on Mount Sinai,” he said.
Mr. Kildee also acknowledged that his actions were motivated at least partially by Congressional desire to be included in the assessment debate.
Lawmakers have felt left out since the Administration and the nga launched the goals-setting process at a 1989 “education summit” in Charlottesville, Va. Four Congressional leaders were included on their goals panel, but in non-voting roles, and they have not participated.
A proposal to create a new panel dominated by educators was included in a bill approved by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Commitee in April on a party-line vote.
Lawmakers also argue that development of national standards and tests and other aspects of the President’s America 2000 education plan must be approved by the Congress.
A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 1991 edition of Education Week as House Subcommittee Calls for Study of National Testing