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Help may be on the way for states and school districts struggling to make sense of what different assessments tell them about what their students know and are able to do.

The American Institutes for Research, a not-for-profit institution based in Washington, has announced the creation of the Center for Education Assessment. Archie E. Lapointe, who left his position last year as the director of the center for assessment at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., is the new center's director.

The new assessment center will be based in Washington this year, but plans are to move it to Palo Alto, Calif., next year.

In an interview last week, Mr. Lapointe said that the goal of the center is to help states and districts make good decisions based on the sometimes contradictory information provided by local, state, and national assessments of student learning. Currently, educators, policymakers, and the public are not necessarily getting enough bang for their assessment buck, he asserted.

Mr. Lapointe said that he wants the center to perform a kind of audit of testing information for client states or districts. That way, just as physicians make judgments about a patient's health based on a battery of tests, so too can a school district figure out what its bottom line is in terms of achievement.

The center will not devise new ways to measure student achievement, Mr. Lapointe said. "I'm personally convinced we have too many of those already."

By analyzing the assessment information they are getting now, he said, states and districts can figure out what information they would like to have in the future--which could alter the way assessments are written.

Mr. Lapointe said that he is eager to see assessments provide not only data on individual students but also assessment results that are more accessible to the public.

"The Center for Education Assessment," he said, "will be focusing on helping lay people--that is people who don't understand statistics and psychometrics--utilize information from not only [the National Assessment of Educational Progress] but their own testing program."

In these times of belt tightening in education budgets, Mr. Lapointe said that the service will have to be affordable.

"One of the things I think we'll have to be able to prove to schools is that if they use this product or service, they'll end up saving some money or at least improving the productivity of the school system."

--MILLICENT LAWTON [email protected]

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