During the 1990s, two presidents proposed national tests. Congress rejected both. A Republican Congress brushed back a proposal by a Democratic president, just as a Democratic Congress killed a plan by a Republican president. Neither plan ever had much chance of passing. (Read this and this in the Education Week archives.)
That’s the main reason why NCLB gave states the authority to set their own definitions of proficiency based on the tests they design. If President Bush or the law’s congressional sponsors tried to nationalize testing, the idea would have flopped, which would have endangered the bill.
Now momentum appears to be building for the idea of creating national tests. The latest endorsement comes in a New York Times editorial.
“Many states have gamed the system—and misled voters—devising weak tests, setting low passing scores or changing tests from year to year to prevent accurate comparisons over time,” the editorial in Monday’s paper says. “The charade will continue, and children will continue to be shortchanged, until the country develops a rigorous national test keyed to national standards.”
The Times joins the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the Council of Great City Schools, and Aspen Institute’s Commission on NCLB in advocating national tests. Diane Ravitch likes the Times’ editorial, but her blogging foil, Deborah Meier, calls the idea “patently absurd.”
What’s ultimately important is where Congress and the president stand. So far, I haven’t seen much enthusiasm for national testing.
A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.