National tests would serve schools Clinton proposal: Not another federal mandate, assessments would be voluntary.

September 20, 1997

MARYLAND SUPPORTS President Clinton's proposal for national tests of school students because it already knows their value. The Maryland School Performance Assessment Program has its detractors, but MSPAP provides important information to educators trying to pinpoint where students are having trouble learning, and why.

The reading and math tests the president proposes would provide more information about individual students, but the House and Senate have split on support for the idea, with the House defeating the measure this week.

The tests for fourth and eighth graders are being developed with $22 million available through the existing Fund for the Improvement of Education. But conservatives in Congress claim they are standing up for the states, which should have primary authority over public education. In truth, they would prefer spending federal money on school choice programs that would hurt public schools.

Some liberal Democrats, too, are opposed to national tests. Their argument is that such evaluations would only bring more criticism to schools that already know their students aren't learning. That, however, doesn't mean the assessments Mr. Clinton proposes aren't needed. It means the test information will be useless unless it triggers the measures needed to bring about better results.

Mr. Clinton has responded to opponents by stipulating the national tests will be voluntary; no school district will lose funds // because it didn't give the tests. To appease those irrationally fearing a federal takeover of local schools, Mr. Clinton has taken jurisdiction of the tests from the Education Department and given the project to the independent National Assessment Governing Board. He should increase Republican membership on that panel to ensure its bipartisanship.

National tests are no panacea for all that ails the nation's schools. Many of the reasons why some children are not learning are already known, especially in poverty-stricken areas where schools lack resources and students lack motivation. But as President Clinton correctly sees it, national tests can help provide the impetus for students, teachers and parents to work even harder when faced with such odds. National testing would complement evaluations many school districts are already doing.

Pub Date: 9/20/97

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