WASHINGTON – When President Clinton in his State of the Union address called for national educational standards, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening was the first governor to endorse the idea.
But an ideologically diverse group of lawmakers, including some members of Maryland’s delegation, are aiming to give the proposal a failing grade.
Advocates of voluntary federal tests based on those standards say they would allow individual students to compare their scores with a nationally recognized standard. But to Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, the idea is the latest unnecessary federal intrusion into local schools.
“If we have national standards dictated by government, schools will do the obvious thing and teach to the test, and ultimately, the federal government will be dictating curriculum across the country,” he said. “Even if they’re never legally mandated, if you’re going to get the federal money, you’re going to take those tests.”
Bartlett said he plans to vote for an amendment to the education department’s annual spending bill that would block further development of the tests. Joining him is an unlikely partner, liberal Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore.
According to Cummings’ spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, the congressman fears standardized tests are culturally biased against the primarily lower-income, minority students he represents.
“Also, the congressman is personally opposed to testing,” McCarthy said. “He was tested when he entered school. He was a brilliant man, but because he did not test well, he was sent to special ed and had to fight long and hard (along) with his parents to get out of those special classes.”
Representatives Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, and Robert Ehrlich Jr., R-Timonium, also plan to vote for the amendment, according to their staffs. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, has not announced a position. The rest of the Maryland delegation supports the federal tests.
The House version of the amendment is tentatively scheduled for a vote tomorrow; the Senate version has not been scheduled for a vote.
Clinton has promised to veto the $270 billion spending bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education if the amendment passes. That would endanger the congressional leadership’s plans to adjourn before Halloween.
The amendment would also irk Ronald Peiffer of the Maryland Department of Education, who wants to use the federal exams to augment Maryland’s own set of standardized proficiency tests.
“When you have good, strong leadership, good instruction, good staff development and have a plan to have marks or standards that schools need to meet, we see some real gains (with standardized tests),” he said.
Peiffer, the department’s assistant superintendent for school and community outreach, said the federal standards would likely resemble the states’s own and would not demand major changes in curriculum. The state does not, however, have a firm plan for how it would use the exams, nor has the state board of education approved the tests.
Under Clinton’s direction, the U.S. Department of Education has begun developing reading tests for third-graders and mathematics tests for eighth-graders. The department plans to base the exams, which would be voluntary for any state or school district, on tests already administered to a sampling of students in 43 states and used for a state-by-state comparison.
The current tests are used only to measure states against each other and foreign countries. The new tests are designed so that individuals can see how they match up against other students in the U.S.
Acting Deputy Education Secretary Marshall S. Smith called the national tests and standards a major step toward the president’s goal of ensuring every fourth-grader can read and every eighth-grader can handle algebra.
“Of course, the test, it doesn’t make a difference per se,” he said. “What makes a difference is that people prepare for the test, and that they’re motivated for the test, and people take pride in doing well on test assessment.”
Smith also discounted criticism that standardized tests are inherently biased. “That might have been an accurate statement 30 or 40 years ago, but it’s not accurate now,” he said. The education department estimates that it would spend $22 million to develop the tests over the next two years and $100 million thereafter to come up with new questions and pay for the test’s administration. The first students would take the test in 1999, and the federal government would pay testing companies $10- $12 per student to administer and score the exam in participating schools, Smith said. -30-