Clinton Hopes Test Proposal Would Be Only the Beginning

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While some say President Clintons proposal for voluntary national achievement tests is too ambitious, he said last week he would like to take it further.

"In my dream world, before too long we would have this 4th grade reading test and this 8th grade test replicated in elementary, junior high, and high school in several areas," Mr. Clinton said. "Then, all the schools in the country could pick and choose about what they would participate in."

But, for now, his proposal to assess progress in two grades and in two subjects--reading and mathematics--is the best way to get started, he said last week at a presidential town meeting at Robert C. Byrd High School in Clarksburg, W.Va.

"We have to make a beginning somewhere as a nation, so I'm trying to get us to make a beginning as a nation with this in 1999," he said.

At last week's event, Mr. Clinton announced that West Virginia's governor and state schools superintendent plan to use the national assessments when they become available in 1999. Massachusetts officials also have endorsed the plan, he said.

There's a "growing national consensus for standards, and I'm very, very encouraged" by it, he said.

Massachusetts and West Virginia join Maryland, Michigan, and North Carolina as states committed to giving the tests. In California, the state schools chief has announced she wants schools to participate, but the governor and the board of education oppose the tests. ( "Clinton Testing Proposal Pits Calif. Officials ," April 9, 1997.)

"It's not a done deal, but it's get-able," Michael McCurry, the White House press secretary, told reporters regarding California. "We clearly are working hard to get as many states as possible to participate in testing by the time it becomes available in the 1998-99 school year."

Facing Scrutiny

Mr. Clinton's plan also faces questions from influential Republicans in Congress.

Congress should "carefully and methodically examine an issue of enormous magnitude," Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said recently.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Goodling proposed an amendment that would have prohibited the Department of Education from spending fiscal 1997 money on the testing proposal. The amendment was ruled out of order because it violated a House rule that prohibits Congress from restricting an agency's spending authority in the middle of a fiscal year except in a bill specifically designed to rescind money. ( "Rep. Goodling Fails To Block Funding for New Tests," May 21, 1997.)

But when Congress starts to consider next year's Education Department budget, Mr. Goodling may be more successful in passing his amendment.

Despite those criticisms, Mr. Clinton continues to stump for national tests.

"The most important thing of all in our education program, I believe, is the effort to develop national standards and a national measure of whether those standards are being met," he told the West Virginia audience of teachers, parents, students, and elected officials in a meeting broadcast over the Internet.

He acknowledged that school boards may fear the federal government will gain control over state and local decisions because of the tests. The Education Department would never mandate that a state or school district participate in the test, he added.

"That is not what this is about," Mr. Clinton said. "All the federal government proposes to do is to fund the development of the tests to measure whether the standards are being met."

And, while the task of raising student scores may seem difficult, Mr. Clinton said, West Virginia's scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that it can be done.

From 1992 to 1996, the state raised its 4th grade and 8th grade math NAEP performance at a faster rate than all but two other states, he said.

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