Now's the Time to Test Standardized Tests

Article excerpt

A five-year federal experiment to boost K-12 schools by standardized testing is still far from its goal: making all students "proficient" in math and reading by 2014. Now Congress will soon weigh whether to renew the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The review itself will be a new test of what the US expects from schools.

Holding public educators accountable for the quality of their work was a noble and necessary aim of the 2002 law. It was designed to produce better workers for an American economy struggling to keep its competitive advantage in a globalized workforce.

But at least 1,800 schools are failing to meet their state's new targets in math and reading. And too many states are using loopholes to lower test standards and make more schools appear to be succeeding - when they clearly aren't, based on the results of separate exams known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The definition of "proficiency" is being dumbed down.

And such weakening of standards helps many states avoid remedies set out by the law to give students an opportunity for tutoring and a choice in transferring to better schools. This neglect of children's basic needs should not go unnoticed.

Many problems have cropped up in implementing the NCLB law, leading to many studies on how to fix them. As House and Senate committees begin hearings in coming weeks to reauthorize the law, they'll need to carefully weigh these diverse recommendations through the same bipartisan lens that created the law, while strengthening its mandates.

President Bush, who sees this act as his signature domestic initiative, proposed his own fixes last month. …