WASHINGTON — A panel appointed by the Education Department has urged that the federal government substantially revise the way it measures student educational skills, in an effort to gauge more precisely where schools are failing.
The proposed changes, released Saturday by Education Secretary William J. Bennett, would expand the testing program to include more students in more subjects and provide state-by-state and reliable private school data for the first time.
The proposal, which Bennett said he will submit to Congress, would raise the annual cost of the program from $4 million to about $26 million. Bennett said he may try to trim the cost.
"This is one of the most important things we can accomplish in this round" of education reforms, said Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers and one of several educators who were asked to review the proposal. He said if reforms continue to be implemented without sufficient information on students' skills, "it will lead to greater and greater disillusionment."
Bennett said he appointed the 22-member panel, headed by former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, a Republican, as part of his effort to enhance educational accountability by providing better information to legislators, educators and parents. "It is my belief that, armed with the right information, the American people can fix their schools," he said.
The panel's proposal would revamp the testing program known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The program's periodic reports are the most reliable information available on student achievement.
Testing More Students
The program, established by Congress more than 20 years ago, is now conducted under contract by the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J. It tests a sample of 9-, 13- and 17-year-old students, providing regional results in reading, writing, mathematics and occasionally in other subjects.
Under the new program, the number of students tested would increase from 70,000 in each subject to nearly 700,000.
The most sweeping change endorsed by the panel is the addition of state-by-state data. That information has not been included in the past because of concerns, expressed when the program was initiated, that unfair comparisons of states would be made.
"Today, rather than wanting to conceal, suppress or avoid knowledge of how the educational progress of children in one state compares with that in another--or with the average for the nation as a whole--we now accept such comparisons as legitimate and desirable," members of the panel said in their report, "The Nation's Report Card."
Would Expand Subjects
The panel recommended that the program should also allow states to arrange for data on each district and school. And it called for regular assessments in additional areas, including history, geography, civics, literacy and technology.
The National Academy of Education, a group of education scholars asked by the Department of Education to assess the panel report, endorsed most of the recommendations but cautioned that expanded testing alone will not enhance educational improvements.