Rep. Goodling Fails To Block Funding for New Tests

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A key Republican lawmaker tried unsuccessfully last week to block funding for the creation of President Clinton's voluntary national student achievement tests.

Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, aimed to remove money for the tests by amending a supplemental spending bill for Midwest disaster relief and peacekeeping in Bosnia.

The House approved the appropriations measure late last week.

Earlier, when Mr. Goodling brought up his amendment on the House floor, it was shot down in a procedural attack by Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. Mr. Obey said the amendment was out of order because it would change existing law.

The White House had released a statement even before the amendment was introduced saying that if such an amendment were to be adopted, the president's advisers would recommend that he veto the entire spending bill.

Mr. Goodling has for weeks made clear his opposition to the plan to administer by 1999 national tests in reading for 4th graders and in mathematics for 8th graders. At a Capitol Hill hearing last month, he told Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley that he disliked the idea of obtaining individual student scores that might be used to rank schools. Current federal law, which expires this year, already prohibits the only existing national assessments from measuring individual student achievement. ("Riley Faces Panel's Questions On New National Student Tests," May 7, 1997.)

Congressional lawmakers, including Mr. Goodling, have also been griping that the administration was moving ahead on a major piece of federal education policy without explicit approval from Congress.

In remarks prepared for delivery on the House floor, Mr. Goodling said his amendment would "slow down a runaway train." It would, he said, give Congress time to examine "an issue of enormous magnitude."

Mr. Goodling's proposed amendment would have prohibited the administration from using any money for the testing plan that Congress made available during this fiscal year or had set aside in prior years for a fund earmarked for improving education.

"There is absolutely no reason for the department to bypass Congress," Mr. Goodling said in his statement. "Anything of this magnitude ought to be done through specific and explicit legislation."

Despite the setback, Mr. Goodling is expected to try to resurrect his amendment in the future when an appropriate bill presents itself, an aide said last week.

Mr. Riley and other Education Department officials have said that they believe they have the authority to proceed. They are paying for the start-up of the new tests through the $40 million Fund for the Improvement of Education, which is part of the department's office of educational research and improvement.

Mr. Goodling argued that the administration is relying on very broad language that says nothing specific about national tests.

It will cost about $22 million over this year and next fiscal year to create the tests, Mr. Riley testified at last month's hearing before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families. The department has already awarded a competitive bid for the overall blueprint for the tests and is now soliciting proposals for the writing of test items and the administration of pilot- and field-testing.

Support for Both Sides

The new national reading and math tests are to be based on the reading and math subject-area exams of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP, an Education Department project mandated by Congress, has measured the academic performance of a nationally representative sample of public and private school students since 1969. It provides national and state-level snapshots of achievement by students in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades, but is prohibited by law from producing individual students' scores.

The proposed halt to the new testing plan drew at least one set of supporters. Officials from the Cambridge, Mass.-based National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a watchdog group, backed the amendment last week in a letter to Mr. Goodling. "The [national testing] issue should be carefully considered, weighed, and debated before the administration is allowed to move ahead with any significant new testing plans; this amendment will slow down the process and allow for such careful consideration to occur," wrote Laura Barrett, the group's executive director and Monty Neill, its associate director.

The new tests also have their share of boosters. The governors of Maryland, Michigan, and North Carolina, representing both political parties, have said that schools in their states will take the tests, and the Council of Chief State School Officers has endorsed the plan.

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