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Fading Away?

Students in Wichita, Kan., may take more state tests in the near future—and fewer local ones. Winston C. Brooks, the superintendent of the 49,000-student school system, this month proposed eliminating the district's local benchmark- assessment program starting next fall to save money and scale back test-taking.

"We're in a budget crisis, like everybody else," he said last week. "We're right now planning to cut $9 million out of our $400 million budget."

The local tests, given in reading, writing, and mathematics in grades 2, 5, 8, and 10, cost about $1 million a year to administer, he said. That's on top of new reading and math tests in grades 3-8 and high school that the state plans to phase in by 2005-06 to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"With our state assessment plan, we will almost triple the number of assessments that our youngsters will be taking," said Mr. Brooks. "You get to the point where you say, 'Hey, school's about a lot more other things than just testing kids to death.'"

Mr. Brooks said when the district set up its testing program a decade ago, the state tests were less rigorous than they are today. "Our state assessment program has improved tremendously."

Even so, he acknowledged, there are some advantages to the local assessments, which are used to gauge students' performance against district standards and identify youngsters who need help.

One big difference: Wichita gives its tests in the early spring and has results back before students leave school for the summer. State test results aren't released until the following October.

The superintendent's proposal to drop the local exams must be approved by the school board as part of its pending budget deliberations.

Mr. Brooks predicts that, given the current focus on state test results, districts' own testing programs may go the way of the dodo bird.

"I think that we're almost being forced to this decision, based on the federal legislation and the emphasis that's being put on the state assessment," he said. "I think local assessments around the country will eventually fade away, and that all of the emphasis will be about state assessments, because that's where all the consequences are."

Under the federal law, a school's performance is judged primarily on how its students perform on state tests in reading and math.

Lynn Olson

Vol. 23, Issue 20, Page 10

Published in Print: January 28, 2004, as Testing

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