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Crawling toward national tests

Two leaders of the necessarily slow and difficult movement to give American children everywhere the educations they deserve dropped by the Post last week at the invitation of my distinguished colleague David Broder and provided an update on the future of national standards and tests.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who heads up the National Governors Association efforts on this issue, and former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., the godfather of education standards in America, indicated a large majority of states will agree on common core standards very soon, but a common test is at least five years away.

They were careful to use the word "common," not "national," for what they and a legion of educators across the country are doing. "National" to them sounds too much like "federal." They want it clear that this is an area where law and tradition give the power to the states, and they are certain they can do a better job than Congress.

Eventually, they suggested, a common test will make sure every state is following the common standards and will allow each state to set its own passing score. But over time, they said, it should be clear to all that kids in Mississippi should be shooting for the same achievement levels as those in Connecticut. This will all take a while, with some setbacks to be expected, but that is the way this movement has proceeded for the last 30 years. I think we are in a better place now, in terms of what our children are learning, than we were then. It has been mostly marginal improvement, but as time passes, small steps grow into big ones.

By Jay Mathews  | February 23, 2010; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Jack Markell, James B. Hunt Jr, common standard, common tests, national education standards  
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National standards are great, but why no mention of national funding? How is it reasonable to demand the same outcomes in Mississippi and Connecticut with a slight difference in resources? Where's the equality of opportunity there?

Posted by: peixao | February 23, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse

We already have a national test. It's called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and it does a fine job of showing how much progress each state is making. Because it uses matrix sampling, no kid has to take the test in its entirety. Which means it doesn't subject every kid to endless hours of bubble torture. Let us hope that the governors in their wisdom look to the NAEP design as a model.

Posted by: dz159 | February 23, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse


If you haven't read the following report yet, you should:

It could significantly alter the common core standards movement.

Posted by: phoss1 | February 24, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

How about using the GED as a high school standard?
According to the ACE that administers the GED, "Only 60% of graduating high school seniors would pass the GED Tests on their first attempt".

Since institutions already accept the GED as an established standard, it would be interesting to consider the GED as an exit exam rather than defining new ones.

For lower grades, SAT or ACT (or placement
tests like Accuplacer or COMPASS) could be used as goals (whether or not these exams cover what is needed, they are already an accepted standard).

Robin Schwartz

Posted by: mathconfidence | February 25, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

A uniform set of “common” academic standards would be most welcome in reading, writing, and mathematics. Those are all vital skill based areas of learning that can be assessed without damaging the ideal of appropriate content by any one school, county, or state. As a social studies teacher I hope the instructional content of my field can avoid as much outside interference as possible.
Texas currently demonstrates the dangers of having conservatives interfere with history content. One of the new standards proposed for US History it to have students learn the contributions of members of the modern conservative movement, such as Newt Gingrich. Conservatives also went berserk in the early 90s when a new set of national history standards were proposed and things like McCarthyism were more prominent than conservative types would enjoy.
The extreme multi-cultural branch of liberal America has also been destructive to the teaching of history. Many schools have been dropping European History as a course of study and have blended it into a two year World History curriculum that places a greater instructional emphasis on the non-western world. This sadly scoffs at European based cultural heritage, founding, and major connection to world events between America and Europe.
There may be many people reading this post who believe I’m totally wrong on my views of conservative Texas History or the importance of European History over World. As a teacher of AP United States Government and Politics I am involved in frequent discussions with other AP Gov educators around what grade (10th, 11th, or 12th), schedule type (traditional vs. block) and course length (full year vs. ½ year) works best for instruction in that course. None of us are correct. There are as many ways to successfully instruct AP Gov are there are to structure a school’s course order and content in social studies instruction. I sincerely hope that we can avoid any expansion of national testing and/or common standards in social studies content.

Posted by: Mostel26 | February 26, 2010 6:19 AM | Report abuse

Please, please, please give me national standards! I am originally from the DC area and have taught in Colorado for 10 years. I currently work in a semi-rural district with incredibly low academic standards. Every year, we have to explain to some of our brightest students why they did not get into premier private colleges. Usually the answer is not enough math, science or foreign language credits. Our state currently requires 4 years of English, 2 Science, 2 Social Studies and 3 Math. There are no yearly benchmark exams and results on our state standardized tests do not affect our students' grades, transcripts or ability to graduate. The state is afraid of using our standardized tests in a more meaningful way because it would violate district independence. Our district is afraid of raising our requirements beyond the state standards because of our school choice laws. In a day and age where the federal contribution of roughly $7000/student is a school's lifeblood, losing students would be catastrophic!

It is time to nationalize education standards. Students in every state and every district need an education that functions in a similar way to help our youth thrive in the future. Should the form of that education look the same? Of course not!! But it is absolutely time to get all of our states on the same page.

Posted by: mtnmeyer2 | February 26, 2010 11:04 PM | Report abuse

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