RAY SUAREZ: Today was Rod Paige's first day on the job, and he dedicated himself to restoring "quality schools" across the country. He's the former superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, and was once the Dean of Education at Texas Southern University. Welcome, Mr. Secretary.
ROD PAIGE: Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: You are a supporter of testing as a tool in school systems?
ROD PAIGE: Done properly I think testing is vital strategy for improving schools.
RAY SUAREZ: What do you want a test to do? What do you need it to tell you to make it useful to you?
ROD PAIGE: Well, we need the test to be valid. It should measure what it purports to be measure. If there is some mellow line, as suggested by your news clip, then there are things we can look at. We could look at the test itself and see if it has validity; we could look at the instructional strategies and see if they are teaching the content that the test has measured. We could look and see if that alignment between the test and the content is appropriate -- but having some difficulty in aligning these factors is not I think worthy of invalidating the concept of testing.
RAY SUAREZ: So what did the very much talked about TAS test in Texas do for your Houston students. What did it allow you to know about them?
ROD PAIGE: Well, first of all it gave us timely information about the student's progress toward the objectives that had been set out by the state of Texas. The TEA, the Texas Educational Agency, which is the board of education, determined what a Texas child should know and be able to do as a result of instructions at any course at any grade level in Texas. Those objectives are clear to all of us. Those objectives are there for instructional people and the TAS measures those objectives and their alignment is clear.
RAY SUAREZ: Did the results attach to an individual student, Jane Jones and John Gomez, or did it tell you something about a whole school or a cluster of schools in a Houston neighborhood?
ROD PAIGE: Both. It told us about the individual child. It told us about the individual classroom. It told us about the individual teacher, about the school and also clusters of schools. That is the beauty of it. It gives you this kind of information that can be used to improve the situation.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, now that you are moving from Texas to a national stage, the testing regime that has been proposed by the administration, will we see the same tests being given in Chula Vista, California and Bar Harbor, Maine?
ROD PAIGE: No, the Bush plan calls for the states to deal with the content of the test. The states would set the standards and also set the test to measure those content standards. We would assume that should be appropriate alignment. If so, then that strategy should be a very helpful strategy.
RAY SUAREZ: If they are giving a different test in Maine and California and Iowa, how can you compare the achievement of the school children of Maine, Iowa and California? Can tests be calibrated in a way that you can get some useful comparisons out of them?
ROD PAIGE: There are statistical methods to do that, but we would also wish to encourage states to participate in the NAPIS program. That program would allow to give some judgment about the quality of the content standards and the quality of the examinations in their particular state.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, I'm sure you've the criticism given to high stakes tests. One critic called it like judging a batter's career on one particular game that he plays. How do you respond to that?
ROD PAIGE: Well, this is not I think an appropriate example of what is actually happened. If it's one test, there are multiple opportunities to take the test. In some cases it might be multiple tests but it's not a once in a lifetime chance and then you're dead after that. That is probably not appropriate and I don't think that is in use in many states. It's certainly not in use in Texas, and we wouldn't encourage that. We would encourage multiple opportunities to take the test.
RAY SUAREZ: Some critics of high stakes testing in Texas have pointed to a sort of realignment of the school year around the test with drilling and a lot of prep and a lot of time being spent up until testing day around the state.
ROD PAIGE: Those who focus only on the test can come out with those kinds of conclusions. Appropriately, though, we must focus on the testing program, which will include the content standards --which will include the content standards broken down into appropriate objectives that are known by the teachers and by the students and by their parents and by the community.-- and then the test that measures the content standards and the objectives, this kind of testing can give you precise information to guide instructional strategies. It can also help you understand the level of mastery on the content standards that you've developed. And assuming that all that is appropriate including the cutoff score and all those things are places where you can look to correct the kind of imbalance that you've just shown.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, what is at stake for individual schools if we move ahead with the administration's plan for national testing?
ROD PAIGE: Well, let's assume a valid test. Let's assume that the contents standards are appropriate. Let's assume that the instructional strategies are aligned properly and instruction is done properly. These are things that you have to work on at the various states. And if after a period of time, schools aren't measuring up, then it's an opportunity to look at that school and to take some other alternative route. For the students, clearly we can't have students continue in failing schools.
RAY SUAREZ: Some social scientists might say that what a bad test result tells from you a particular school is that very few families in the neighborhood have any high school diplomas, that there is very few books at home. It may tell you things about a place, about a school, but not very much about the students themselves.
ROD PAIGE: Well, all the things are factors. Unfortunately these factors are real in our society. And schools have the responsibility now for helping students grow, and I think it's time now for us to reject the argument that we can't teach children because of some circumstances outside of the classroom. Although these are important circumstances and they do have impact, it is still our responsibility to cause students to learn.
RAY SUAREZ: Does the administration plan to take into account that bringing students up to your standards just might be more difficult in some places than in others?
ROD PAIGE: I'm sure that is a true statement. In fact, in my own district in Houston, I personally witnessed in the last seven years schools where most would say these students had all the at-risk characteristics associated with failure and they shouldn't grow. In fact they did. You can see samples of this all across the nation. We have islands of excellence across the United States. What we are trying to do now is get an excellent system. We know in these islands of excellence what works, and what works are the components of the Bush plan. So it's not some type of experimental thing. These things have been evidenced all across the United States.
RAY SUAREZ: How long before we might be able to see a big ambitious plan like this implemented? Will it take a long time?
ROD PAIGE: We would like to begin working on it in the fall. Of course, we've got to have a lot of dialogue with the Senate and with the House and we have to do a lot of work on this. What we want to do is have a broad, bipartisan approach to this. We want all of us to do it together and there is still some discussion to be had.
RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Paige, thanks for coming by.
ROD PAIGE: Well, thank you.