Bennett: Test Gains at 'Dead Stall'

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Washington--Secretary of Education William J. Bennett last week pronounced the state of progress in student test scores "a dead stall," and said that record spending on education has "not yet given the results our children deserve."

In what has become an annual media event--the presentation of the department's "wall chart" of educational indicators by state--Mr. Bennett took swipes at the field's bureaucratic "blob," renewed his call for a more rigorous core curriculum, and made a pitch for parental choice, autonomy and accountability for schools, and performance-based incentives for teachers.

Wall Chart on pages 18-19.

The Secretary also repeated his charge that the education-reform movement is in danger of being "hijacked" by special interests.

"Recent evidence from around the nation confirms many of my fears," he said. "We need to renew the pressure for reform."

Of the statistics represented in the wall chart, he said: "We're paying top dollar to educate our children, but we're sure not getting top return."

The wall chart has been criticized since its initiation in 1984 for attempting to draw comparisons between states with noncomparable data. It profiles such areas as college-entrance-examination scores, high-school graduation rates, teacher salaries, pupil-teacher ratios, and education spending.

This year's edition includes for the first time a new indicator showing the proportion of education spending that goes to pay teachers.

Speaking at a press conference that drew dozens of television cameras and more than 100 reporters, Mr. Bennett noted that "in no state do teachers' salaries make up even half of spending."

"Some of this [remaining] money is doubtless well spent," he said, "but too much of it goes to what I call 'the blob.' Spending more on education won't improve results if all we're doing is feeding educational bureaucracies."

The Secretary said, however, that he "took some comfort in the fact that the education-reform movement is alive and responsible for important changes now taking place in many states."

"Clearly, some of the best reforms simply are not showing their dividends yet," he said.

When asked whether his admonition to "shrink the blob" of bureaucracy meant he was encouraging the defeat of local school levies, he said that would depend on the district involved.

"If I lived in certain parts of Chicago, and was asked for more money, I would say 'take a hike,"' Mr. Bennett said. "But if I lived in certain areas of Cleveland, I probably would support the investment."

Minority Gains Noted

Though national average scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test remained unchanged in 1987, with scores on the American College Testing Program exam dropping slightly, Mr. Bennett noted that a greater proportion of students took the college-entrance exams and Advanced Placement tests than ever before.

"This means we have more potential college freshmen, and more students with advanced levels of preparation," he said. "It also means that we are succeeding in keeping scores level despite a larger pool of test-takers." He was especially encouraged, he said, by gains recorded for poor, black, and Hispanic students.

In the Advanced Placement exams, minority participation has grown by 78 percent since 1984, he noted, roughly doubling the increase among white students.

More minorities are also taking the a.c.t. and the s.a.t. exams, he said, and their scores are climbing--a fact he attributed to improved academic preparation.

"We should note that among all students, those completing a core academic curriculum averaged almost 4 points higher on the act and 49 points higher on the sat," said the Secretary.

But in the area of graduation rates, he said, "we can and should do much better."

The national average for 1986, the latest year for which figures are available, is down slightly from the 71.7 percent recorded in 1985--to 71.5 percent. But Mr. Bennett said that "the trend line on this measure has shown improvement" from the 1982 figure of 69.5 percent.

'Sensible and Needed' Reforms

The Secretary referred to a poll of school administrators released this year that showed wide discrepancies between their attitudes toward the progress of reform efforts and those of the general public.

"This year's wall chart suggests that the education establishment has not adequately faced up to the challenge before us," he said, "a challenge seen clearly by the public."

Currently, only eight states offer programs that reward teachers and administrators based upon how well their students perform, he noted, encouraging other states to consider such incentives.

He also encourged alternative routes to teaching, citing the success of New Jersey's program.

There are now 31 states with some form of alternative certification, he said, including five that emphasize teacher internships or apprenticeships. The Secretary also urged the adoption of minimum-competency examinations for teachers. Forty-three states now require such exams for entering teachers, he said, an increase of nine since last year. Three states require current teachers to pass examinations.

"But there is still too much resistance to sensible and needed reform," he said, "to accountability measures to increased parental choice, to performance incentives, and to rewarding success and intervening where there is persistent failure."

"Public patience is wearing thin," he suggested.

Improved Chart Planned

Acknowledging criticism that using a.c.t. and s.a.t. scores is not a fair or representative way to measure student success, Mr. Bennett said the proposed expansion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress could provide a better "report card" in the future.

The department has suggested that naep be expanded to provide for state-by-state comparisons.

"The wall chart of the future will make this easier, by containing far more data than we have today concerning educational outcomes--by state, by grade, and by subject," Mr. Bennett said.

Other wall-chart findings:

Average teacher salaries rose by more than $7,000 between 1982 and 1987, from $19,274 to $26,551, a gain of approximately 38 percent.

The average teacher-pupil ratio declined steadily from 18.9 pupils per teacher in 1982 to 17.8 pupils per teacher in 1987.

In 1986, the average per-pupil expenditure was $3,752, up $1,026 from 1982.

In 1986, federal funds made up 6.7 percent of total school revenues; in 1982 they represented 7.4 percent.

Twelve states require minimum-competency testing for grade-level promotions.

Twenty-four states have planned or implemented minimum-competency testing for graduation.

Seven states have adopted policies or passed legislation enabling the state to intervene in the management of "academically bankrupt" schools or school districts.

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