Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Clash of the Testing Titans

Joanne Jacobs writes about a new report by the Fordham Foundation that calls for national standards in education. To Dream the Impossible Dream: Four Approaches to National Standards and Tests for America's Schools, identifies four ways to achieve state standards.

1. The Whole Enchilada. The U.S. moves to a national accountability system for K-12 education by tasking the federal government with the creation and enforcement of mandatory standards and assessments to replace the current state-by-state system.

2. If You Build It, They Will Come. A voluntary version whereby Uncle Sam develops national standards, tests and accountability metrics, and provides incentives to states (e.g., more money, fewer regulations) to opt into such a system. (A variant would ask a private group to frame the standards.) Participation is optional for states which remain free to set their own standards.

3. Let's All Hold Hands. Under this approach, states are encouraged to join together to develop common standards and tests. Washington would provide incentives for such collaboration.

4. Sunshine and Shame. This less-ambitious model makes state standards and tests more transparent by making them easier to compare to one another and to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

We're definitely moving toward a national standard and curriculum in education despite the fact that the Constitution provides for no such role. (When has that ever mattered?) It's just a question of which path the educrats will take to get there. If I had to pick the most likely scenario from this list it would be number 3 or a version of 2 and 3.

States are already developing common standards even if it isn't deliberate collaboration. Rigor with relevance are the new buzz words in education. Many state governors are echoing the same mantra. A handful of states have adopted the same state exam (the ACT) with more to follow. (Michigan adopted the ACT in December of 2004.)

However the SAT is trying to stage a comeback. Despite declining test scores and negative press, the New York Times writer Karen Arenson recently reported that the SAT wants back in the game and not just as a college entrance exam.
To generations of students and their teachers, the College Board has been synonymous with the SAT test. But these days it has broader ambitions and wants to reach deeply into high school and even middle school classrooms nationwide.
The SAT has gained the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Is this a last gasp for an aging testing company? Or the opening salvo in an aggressive new strategy to become the testing leader? Time will tell. But one thing is certain the ACT isn't going to concede any ground to them. Quoting Arenson's article,
Nearly two million students now take ACT's 8th- and 10th-grade assessment tests, and a growing number of states are giving the ACT test to all 11th graders. ACT is also increasing its teacher training in middle and high schools.
The Superbowl of education is set to begin. Whoever wins this match up will get more than a trophy, they will be well positioned to run the coveted national exam. Sadly, the loser in this game isn't just the other testing company, it's the American people. And don't be fooled, just because homeschoolers may be exempt from national tests and curriculum, they are not exempt from the consequences they create.

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