Council Seeks a National Testing System by 1993-94

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WASHINGTON--A national assessment system should be created in at least three subjects by the /993-94 school year, a Congressionally mandated panel has concluded.

Acting at a meeting here last month, the National Council on Education Standards and Testing rejected the idea of a single national test. Instead, the panel agreed that states should be encouraged to collaborate to create assessments that would be judged according to national standards.

The panel also agreed that, initially, the exams should be in reading, writing, and mathematics, and that the first--for 4th graders-should be in place in two years.

"There is a momentum we will lose if we don't produce" by that date, said Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, the panel's co-chairman. "Many states want to get in line with the movement. They want guidelines to know what to do and how to do it."

But in a statement released the same day, three scientific groups warned that the rush to create a national assessment system could be harmful.

The organizations--the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education-urged the standards council and the National Education Goals Panel to take time to consider all the technical and policy issues surrounding the new assessments.

But Governor Romer said that the short time frame is appropriate, and pointed out that the council has only a few months, until the end of the year, to issue its final report.

"I do not believe we rushed to judgment," he said. "This nation wants decisions. It doesn't want talk."

No 'Monolithic Approach'

Formed by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and members of the Congress, the standards council--a group of 32 educators, testing experts, and policymakers--was charged with examining the "desirability and feasibility" of national education standards and national tests.

Its creation comes at a time when a number of public and private groups have called for or started to develop a national system of assessments. (See related story, page 16.)

At an earlier meeting, the panel agreed that national standards are desirable, and moved to set up task forces in five subject areas--English, math, science, history, and geography-to gauge the status of standards-setting and outline ways it could be speeded up.

Last month, the council quickly agreed that national assessments are desirable, but most panel members rejected the concept of a single national test.

"The monolithic approach in other countries hasn't worked," said Marshall S. Smith, dean of the graduate school of education at Stanford University.

But panel members also argued that allowing each state to develop its own test, as in the current system, is equally unwise. Instead, members argued, states could form "clusters" to develop tests that could be calibrated against national standards.

"We can build off what states are doing, and take the best of what they are doing," said Gov. Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, co-chairman of the council.

The panel also agreed that the first tests should be in reading, writing, and math, areas where there is close to a national agreement on what should be taught. At the suggestion of Eve M. Bither, commissioner of education in Maine, the panel also agreed that an exam in science should be developed as quickly as possible.

'Make a Better Wheel'

Panel members also decided, after some debate, that 4th-grade exams should be developed first, but that the others should follow in short order.

Lauren B. Resnick, director of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, said standards for all grades should be developed at the outset.

"I can't imagine setting standards for 4th grade without knowing where you're going," she said. "It makes no sense at all to set 4th grade standards without thinking of high-school standards."

To set standards, the panel agreed to use the objectives that have already been developed for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, as well as state frameworks.

"Before we completely reinvent the wheel," said Governor Campbell, "we should take all the wheels out there, pull them together, and make a better wheel."

Governor Romer added that such an exercise would require additional resources, and he suggested that such funds could come out of the federal education-research account.

"[Federal research entities are] too often caught in the last decade's research," he said. 'There is now a new program. The resources could be reoriented."

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 17

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Council Seeks a National Testing System by 1993-94
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