Assessment

Governors on Board—With Caveats

By Lynn Olson — March 14, 2001 2 min read
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The nation’s governors are lining up behind President Bush’s testing and accountability plans, but not without some caveats.

“There’s a fair amount of support, I think, for the president’s proposals,” said Ray Sheppach, the executive director of the National Governors’ Association.

At their annual winter meeting here last month, the governors amended their existing policy on elementary and secondary education to note: “Governors support the annual assessment of students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8,” as Mr. Bush proposes. But, they added, the requirement could be satisfied through a “combination of state and local testing.”

They also called for sufficient federal money to help states meet the testing mandate.

Similarly, the governors said they recognized the importance of the National Assessment of Educational Progress “to provide states with comparable state data in an independent, confirmatory role.” But they warned that more work must be done to validate that new role for NAEP, which is part of the president’s plan.

“I think the feeling, right now, is that any sanctions or bonuses should depend upon the state’s own assessment system, not the NAEP,” Mr. Sheppach said. “The hope is that NAEP is another benchmark that states would adjust to over time, but that it, in itself, would not become a major variable.”

Governors’ education advisers from more than 30 states met in Santa Fe, N.M., last week to discuss the president’s proposals as well as initiatives within their own states.

“In Michigan, we will do whatever it takes to meet the intent of the proposal to assess in reading and math in grades 3 to 8,” said Scott Jenkins, an education adviser to Gov. John Engler, a Republican.

But he noted that the state has a number of gaps to fill. Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill that requires districts to test all students in reading and math in grades 1-5 using either an off-the-shelf, norm-referenced exam or a locally created one, while the state tests reading and math in only a handful of grades throughout the elementary and secondary grades.

‘A Real Arm-Twist’

Mr. Jenkins said Michigan also would support any federal subsidies to encourage districts and schools to participate in NAEP. Michigan passed a law last year that requires districts selected by a national contractor to take the assessment, and appropriated $1,000 per school to offset the cost.

“Some of the proposals from the federal level appear to supplement and augment the financial incentives that states give, and we are very supportive of that,” said Mr. Jenkins, “because it’s very tough, especially in Michigan, where NAEP is done in the spring and so is our state assessment. It’s a real arm-twist.”

In addition to seeking federal money for the proposed expansion in assessments, the governors are requesting more flexibility and control over federal aid, and full funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Although the 1975 legislation authorized the federal government to finance up to 40 percent of services for special-needs students, Congress has never come close to that share. Said Mr. Sheppach: “It’s a huge issue.”

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A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as Governors on Board—With Caveats

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