WASHINGTON -- In a major departure for American education, a federal advisory panel is calling for voluntary national curriculum standards and national tests for American schoolchildren.
Such standards would spell out, for the first time on a national level, what children should be expected to learn and what level of achievement is good enough at different stages, according to the National Council on Education Standards and Testing, an advisory group of major political and educational leaders whose approval is crucial to the success of any such effort. The council, created by Congress last June, concluded its deliberations this week. Its final report will be made public in mid-January.
The council asked Congress to provide money for a successor group to put the recommendations into effect. But council members said the movement was bound to proceed anyway because President Bush made these ideas the cornerstone of his strategy to revive American schools.
Several groups are already working to develop national standards in specific subjects and prototypes of national tests.
But because the panel was charged only to consider the broad outlines of national standards and tests, many crucial details are yet to be worked out, prompting concern and opposition from some educators. They worry that setting standards without providing schools the resources to help meet them will end up discriminating against poor children who attend inadequate schools.
Also, excessively detailed standards could create a national curriculum, stifling teacher creativity, denying parents a voice and causing political battles over what children should learn, the educators say. And they fear that without considerable money and commitment to devise sophisticated tests, national tests could end up resembling the same widely reviled standardized tests that American children take now.
Despite such fears, which have been expressed even among some of its members, the council concluded that standards and tests were essential to reach the education goals that the president and the nation's governors have set for the year 2000.
These goals include making American children the best in the world in mathematics and science achievement and insuring that they demonstrate competency in five core subjects: English, mathematics, science, history and geography.
"It was a fairly historic session," Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, the council's co-chairman, said of the panel's work.