Panel Finds No Tests Comparable to Ones Clinton Espouses

By Millicent Lawton — June 17, 1998 3 min read


The Clinton administration won support last week from a respected panel of academics for one of its underlying arguments for why the United States needs new national tests in reading and math.

Convened by the National Research Council, the panel did not take a position on the merits of the proposed voluntary tests that President Clinton and Congress have been at odds over. But it concluded what many in the administration and in the education world have been arguing for years: There is no way to compare with each other or with national or international standards the results of the many standardized tests already being used by states and schools.

“Comparing the full array of currently administered commercial and state achievement tests to one another, through the development of a single equivalency or linking scale, is not feasible,” the authors write in the study released last week.

The report, requested by Congress last November and paid for by the Department of Education, was an interim one of general findings and conclusions, to be followed by a more detailed final report in the fall.

For More Information

Copies of “Equivalency and Linkage of Educational Tests: Interim Report” are available from the Board on Testing and Assessment, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council; (202) 334-3087.

Congress had asked the research council, a private organization created by congressional charter, to look into whether it was possible to devise a scale to compare scores from existing off-the-shelf and state-written tests with each other and with the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The congressionally mandated naep is the only ongoing, nationally representative survey of student achievement in core subjects. The availability of comparable tests would make the proposed national tests appear redundant.

Filling a Role

One of the main arguments for creating new national exams in 4th grade reading and 8th grade mathematics, as proposed by Mr. Clinton last year, has been that they could provide results for individual students--like many commercial tests--but could also be linked to the existing national assessment and even to international tests. Such links, proponents say, would give students and teachers a better sense of how their students stack up against others elsewhere and effectively raise the bar for academic achievement.

The 15 testing experts and college professors convened by the nrc found that the national tests would fill a role not now occupied by other tests. “Reporting individual student scores from the full array of state and commercial achievement tests on the NAEP scale, and transforming individual scores on these various tests and assessments into the NAEP achievement levels is not feasible,” the report says.

But the administration was not gloating last week. Marshall S. Smith, the acting deputy secretary of education, said of the report, “I don’t think it’s a boost or not a boost.

“It makes it clear that if the nation wants a single, challenging, widely understood benchmark in these two basic subjects, that we’ll need to have an assessment based on some sort of challenging standards like [NAEP],” he said

Meanwhile, under orders from Congress, the independent governing board that oversees NAEP is beginning to shape the proposed new tests. Congress last fall took control of the tests away from the Education Department and gave it to that panel, the National Assessment Governing Board.

No Surprises

The tests, which could be given for the first time in 2001, have met considerable opposition on Capitol Hill, and just a handful of states and school districts have signed up to give them.

One of the chief opponents of the testing plan, Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., was not deflated by the NRC study’s conclusions.

“This finding is neither surprising nor disappointing,” Mr. Goodling, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement. “I have to conclude on the basis of this study that we don’t need another test--especially one developed in Washington.”

Matt Gandal, the director of standards and assessment for Achieve Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit group formed by the nation’s governors and business leaders to push for higher academic standards, said he found the report supportive of the work his group is doing.

“If anything,” Mr. Gandal said, “this reinforces the direction we’re moving in, which is not to come up with some magical way to link existing tests in their current form, but rather come up with a common block of test questions that can be embedded in each state’s assessment at a certain grade and subject, so that you can compare student performance across those states.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 1998 edition of Education Week as Panel Finds No Tests Comparable to Ones Clinton Espouses