WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott on Saturday branded President Clinton's plan for national testing "the educational equivalent of an IRS for the classroom."
Delivering the weekly GOP radio address, the Mississippi Republican played on widespread public resentment toward the Internal Revenue Service--a top Republican theme this fall.
"Most parents--and I count myself among them--do not want agents of the federal government devising those tests, making all students take them, or passing judgment on the results," Lott said.
He noted that his mother had been a public school teacher in Pascagoula, Miss.
"Local teacher testing, not dictated by Washington, D.C., will make sure that every school has first-rate teachers--because every American child is a first-rate child," Lott said in the radio address, taped Friday.
In his State of the Union Address in January, Clinton proposed voluntary national testing for students: in reading for fourth-graders and in math for eighth-graders.
But a congressional compromise on the tests fell apart last week, and the impasse is tying up work on an $80.2-billion spending bill that provides increases for medical research, including AIDS and breast cancer; college student aid; other school aid; and Head Start.
House and Senate conservatives argue that the proposed deal gives in to the president by allowing continued development and field trials of the tests.
The White House also called it unacceptable because it would let Congress decide whether the voluntary, standardized tests will actually be given.
Clinton says the tests are needed to set a fixed standard so parents can judge how their children and schools are doing in two core subjects at two critical times.
Opponents argue that such tests would lead to a national curriculum and loss of local control over education.
"We need to know how the students are learning. We do not need the educational equivalent of an IRS for the classroom," Lott said.
While attacking Clinton's national testing plan, Lott promoted a series of other education items on the GOP agenda that Clinton opposes.
One such proposal lets families contribute up to $2,500 a year for the private or public elementary and secondary school costs of each child, with interest accumulating tax-free.
The measure has passed the House but is tied up in the Senate.
Another House-passed GOP plan, also blocked by a Senate filibuster, provides up to $3,200 for 2,000 low-income students in the District of Columbia.