Testing Column

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In the past few weeks, student test scores have become a political football in the battle over funding education reform in California.

Current high-school seniors in the state recorded the "highest scores in 10 years'' on the state's test of mathematics, reading, spelling, and writing, according to Bill Honig, superintendent of public instruction.

The students are the first to go all the way through secondary school under the education-reform measures enacted in 1983.

Mr. Honig said their performance proves that the reform bill, SB 813, is working, and that public education deserves more money. Among other provisions, the legislation strengthened high-school graduation requirements and put more emphasis on academic courses.

"The 'class of SB 813' has proven that higher standards and more rigorous courses make a difference,'' he said, in releasing the test results.

"Across the board,'' he added, "the results signal resounding support for the education-reform movement in California. Clearly, investing in the system pays off.''

But Gov. George Deukmejian had a different interpretation. Previously, he had complained that the state school system should have more to show for the billions spent on education reform over the past four years.

Last week, he vetoed legislation that would have added $76.3 million to the state's precollegiate-education budget for the current fiscal year.

Kevin Brett, the Governor's press secretary was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, "The Governor is pleased and encouraged with the results because they demonstrate that educational progress can be made at the present level of funding.''

Compared with last year's results, test scores for 12th graders on the California Assessment Program test rose 1.3 points in math, to a total of 70; 0.9 in reading, to 63.6; 0.5 in spelling, to 70.6; and 0.7 in written expression, to 64.1. CAP is the state testing program for all students in grades 3, 6, 8, and 12.

Testing began this week in the eight Southern states that are using the National Assessment of Educational Progress to compare student achievement across states and nationwide.

More than 20,000 students in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia are participating in the pilot program.

Sponsored by the Southern Regional Education Board and the Educational Testing Service, the current NAEP contractor, the pilot will test 11th graders' knowledge of mathematics and U.S. history. Florida is also testing math achievement in grade 7.

Policymakers in other states have been watching the experiment closely since it began in 1984. According to Mark D. Musick, a spokesman for the S.R.E.B., it should be of particular interest now that a national blue-ribbon commission has recommended expanding NAEP to provide state-based data on a regular basis.

A public hearing on the testing concerns of Asian and Pacific Americans will be conducted this Saturday in Honolulu by Bernard R. Gifford, dean of the graduate school of education at the University of California at Berkeley.

Mr. Gifford is conducting the hearing as chairman of a new Commission on Testing and Public Policy, designed to air questions about the role of testing in American life.

The commission, supported by the Ford Foundation, plans to hold three hearings over the next 18 months to provide the public with a chance to present opinions on testing issues.

The first hearing, hosted by the National Association for Asian and Pacific American Education, will be held at the Ala Moana Americana Hotel as part of the group's ninth annual conference.

Asian and Pacific Americans are the fastest-growing population group in the United States, according to Mr. Gifford.

Because a large proportion of these Americans are immigrants and refugees, the commission is particularly concerned about how language and ethnicity will affect their performance on paper-and-pencil tests and on other forms of assessment, such as job interviews.

Citing data from the American College Testing program, a group of researchers in San Antonio, Tex., is disputing findings that parochial-school students perform better than their public-school peers.

George A. Chambers, professor of educational administration at the University of Iowa, presented his research to members of the National Association of Secondary School Principals in February.

In particular, he noted, results reported by the A.C.T. for 1985 high-school graduates indicate no meaningful difference in student test scores among public, private, and parochial schools.

Nearly 1 million high-school juniors and seniors take the A.C.T. each year for college admissions.

Mr. Chambers's findings contrast sharply with those of James S. Coleman, professor of education and sociology at the University of Chicago, who claims that parochial high-school students achieve significantly more than comparable public-school students.

The South Carolina Department of Education has developed plans for a statewide competition that would reward individual schools and students for superior performance on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Bill Hynds, a mathematics consultant for the department, presented a draft proposal for the competition to a panel of school superintendents late last month.

Its purpose, he said, is to encourage each high school to develop a program to improve students' math, verbal, and higher-order thinking skills, so that more South Carolina students would score 1200 or higher on the college-admissions test, out of a total 1600 possible points.

The competition would be open to all public-school students in grades 11 and 12. Preliminary plans call for the competition to begin in the 1987-88 school year.--L.O.

Vol. 06, Issue 28

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