Both Candidates Back Dreaded Standardized Tests

Article excerpt

RICHMOND, Va. -- Their platforms are designed to please, but in one respect George W. Bush and Al Gore are siding with an education reform that is driving some parents, kids, teachers and school administrators batty.

High-stakes standardized testing is seen by the presidential candidates as one antidote to mediocrity in the classroom.

On the trailing edge of the school year, pupils have been knee-deep in the state tests.

Hotly debated in education policy circles, and the subject of protests and even boycotts in some parts of the country, standardized tests are nevertheless supported by a political consensus that crosses party and state lines.

The idea is to develop meaningful standards for what public schoolchildren should know in core subjects. Students are given statewide tests on top of their normal schoolwork, and the results are used to judge how well both school and student are doing.

Increasingly, these test scores are determining whether students can advance a grade or graduate. About 30 states require or plan to require every high school student to pass a statewide test to get a diploma.

Pupils hunched over these exams are carrying a weight larger than their own prospects for advancement: Their marks can determine how much money a school or district gets from the state, whether local administrators retain autonomy and ultimately whether a school stays open.

Republican Bush and Democrat Gore propose to tie the scores to federal education dollars as well, increasing the consequences, although in different ways.

Bush is quick to talk about rising test scores in Texas. His education plan says: "Testing makes standards meaningful, promotes competition and empowers parents and teachers to seek change. …

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