SETTING THE STANDARD
September 8, 1997
Last February, President Clinton announced his support for national standardized testing, saying that uniform tests are needed to evaluate school children's abilities and compare their work with children in other countries. But with the millions of dollars needed to implement them, are standardized tests the best route to better grades? After a background report by Charles Krause, Jim Lehrer leads a debate with Secretary Richard Riley and Congressman Bill Goodling.
JIM LEHRER: Secretary Riley and Congressman Goodling are with us now to pick up on the debate.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 8, 1997:
A backgrounder on national standardized testing.
August 12, 1997:
In an effort to increase test scores Chicago Public Schools are taking a look at current curriculum.
February 10, 1997:
President Clinton's agenda for his second term.
January 16, 1997:
Margaret Warner and a panel discuss a report which criticizes America's public school system.
November 21, 1996:
The NewsHour analyzes a study released that compares American eighth graders to other countries.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the education.
Mr. Secretary, why should education testing be a concern of the federal government?
"Education is more important today than it's ever been in the history of the world."
RICHARD RILEY, Secretary of Education: Well, it's a national look at a very important matter. Education is more important today than it's ever been in the history of the world. We then should have a way certainly to raise expectations for all of the nation's children. We believe that the states responsible for education, local government is where the function takes place, but it must be a national priority. The nation must have it as a priority and do all we can to help states and school districts and parents see that a good education is there for their children.
JIM LEHRER: In the best of all possible worlds make the connection between a nationalized test that's given all over the country to every school child, where it's relevant, and an improvement in that child's performance.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Well, this is more than just a test. This is really focusing the nation on high, rigorous standards. And testing is a way to do that. States are working on standards now, but this is a way to get into the classroom and into the family this idea of how is my child doing, how--
An opportunity for every parent to know where their child stands.
JIM LEHRER: You mean, how my child in South Carolina compared to somebody else's child in North Carolina or North Dakota or whatever?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: That's part of it. It is a very significant variance from state to state in stat testing. It's a very significant difference. But another thing is to focus the nation--and this is very important, Jim,--to focus the nation on high standards, basic skills at these key grades of fourth grade reading and eighth grade math.
JIM LEHRER: But would--I know it's going it's voluntary, but is the idea that every student, say every fourth grader, take exactly the same test all over the United States?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Absolutely. That's one of the beauties of it. And the test, of course, is linked to the so-called NAEP test that's given now on a sample basis, the National Assessment of Education & Progress. It is an accepted test given in 43 states for state scores, but it's a sample test. What we're simply trying to do is to make the sample test personalized so every parent will know how their children stand.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman, what would be the harm in that?
"... you don't fatten cattle by weighing them. You don't speed up a car by putting in one more speedometer. You don't help children learn by offering one more test."
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING, Chairman, Education and Workforce Committee: Well, there are a lot of harms in that. First of all, 46 states have already moved to higher standards. They have all their testing programs. But there are a lot of other problems, problems, first of all, as I've indicated many times, 50 percent of the students are not doing very well. They have had Iowa tests; they've had Stanford tests. They've had every standardized test there is. They've had local municipal tests. They've had state tests. They've had classroom tests, and they've been told over and over and over again, you're doing poorly.
They want to know what you're going to do to help us, not tell us one more time that some national tests--you know, you don't fatten cattle by weighing them. You don't speed up a car by putting in one more speedometer. You don't help children learn by offering one more test. When do you prepare the teacher to teach to the higher standards? Why test if you haven't prepared the teacher to teach to them?
JIM LEHRER: Is it--is the kind of information that Secretary Riley says would help, is that already available to these other tests--
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING: It is available.
JIM LEHRER: --on a comparative basis?
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING: On a comparative basis.
JIM LEHRER: North Dakota and North Carolina?
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING: First of all, your NAEP test--we spend 350 some million dollars now on tests from the federal level. We'll spend $30, 40 million on NAEP tests. We'll spend another six to eight million on a TIMS test. We just had 22 school districts out in Illinois take the TIMS test and--
JIM LEHRER: What's the TIMS test?
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING: Well, it's an international test on math and science. They came out, if I remember correctly, No. 1 in science, and No. 2 in math. They're doing it all over the country.
JIM LEHRER: And so your position basically is that this wouldn't do any good, right, I mean, an international test--
Who should design a test for the entire country?
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING: It wouldn't do any good. And if you were ever going to design a test, you sure wouldn't want the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., doing anything of that nature.
JIM LEHRER: Why not?
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING: First of all, you have to narrowly focus a test if it's going to be valid at all. Every testing expert will tell you that. I've heard four or five different reasons that they say they want a test. Some in the department say they're not happy with the curriculum. Are we going to develop a curriculum in Washington, D.C., and then are we going to develop the test to test that curriculum? And when are we going to train the teacher? And are you going to develop a valid test in one year's time? Every expert tells you it takes three or four years to do that.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, three years to do what you want to do?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Well, first of all, any comment about curriculum was a result of the TIMS test. The TIMS test questioned a lot of the curriculum in this country in various subjects, especially math and science. And we simply notified people of that. Let me point out, the difference--this is a chart that shows the difference between state testing and the NAEP test, which is a federal, high standards test that is given and it is accepted throughout the country. But it is a sample test. Three states here as you'll notice--have a proficiency rating on a state level of over 80 percent. The NAEP federal level is 20 and 30 percent.
JIM LEHRER: I'm not sure we can see that. Let's be specific here.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: All right. It's Wisconsin.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: The Wisconsin state test shows proficient reading, fourth graders, 88 percent.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: The NAEP test says 35. So it's quite a difference between what the state test and what the federal--
JIM LEHRER: So, in other words, you're saying it would not be valid to compare that 88 of Wisconsin's say with Georgia's 39, but it would be valid to compare their 26 with Wisconsin's 39?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Absolutely--and the other states: South Carolina, Louisiana--
JIM LEHRER: You don't buy that?
National standards: dumbing down what the states are doing?
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING: No. I don't buy that at all. First of all the NAEP's test is a spot test. It doesn't test every child at all. And secondly, he's talking a lot about testing that was done in states before they all became involved in rigorous standards. And, you know, I'm afraid we're going to dumb down what states are doing. I can just see the federal government--you know, it's the arrogance of the federal government--we can do it better.
JIM LEHRER: Arrogance of the federal government?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Dumbing down? This is a high, rigorous, challenging test. That's--that's very, very clear. The dumbing down is the ones that do not want the accountability.
JIM LEHRER: What about the Congressman's point? And others have made this point too: This is not something the federal government should be involved in?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: It's a voluntary test. It's basic skills. Reading is--
JIM LEHRER: Voluntary to the states, or--it's not voluntary to each individual child, is it?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: It's however the school districts want do to do that.
JIM LEHRER: School district. I see.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: If they want to make it voluntary or whatever. But it's voluntary to the state and the school district. And then it's basic skills. And that's a very important thing. Reading is reading. Math is math. Two plus two is four. The test in the eighth grade math and fourth grade reading is basic skills offered to the states and the school districts in a high, challenging, rigorous, voluntary test.
JIM LEHRER: What about the Congressman's point about--I'm not sure I've got it all completely right--but the pig on the scale doesn't improve education, all it does is tell you you've got a problem, they already know you've got a problem.
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Well, you know you have a problem in the country by sample tests that Bill was talking about, and you might know you have trouble in a state or in a school district or the 50 percent he was talking about. That's not fair to each child. What we're talking about is measuring each child on these basic skills so their parents will know how their child stands, not how people in the community stand, or a particular region. Every parent is entitled to know that.
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING: But, you see, when he talks about basic skills and higher standards, again, I come back to who is going to prepare the teacher in order to teach to the higher standards? Why do you test anybody if you haven't prepared the teacher for the higher standards? I don't understand it.
JIM LEHRER: The idea would be, Mr. Secretary, that this would stimulate people to--
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Absolutely. And I agree with Bill 100 percent on that. We worked together on trying to improve things. We've significantly added resources in education for the years that I've been here, and we've worked very well on that and want to continue that. This would point out needs, specific needs, that then we could focus resources in to respond to.
Has politics entered the classroom?
JIM LEHRER: Congressman, the President said today in this talk at the school in Maryland that politics should stay out of this, suggesting that politics has, in fact, entered this.
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING: As a matter of fact, it has nothing to do with politics. I spent 22 years in education. I was a teacher. I was a guidance counselor. I was a principal. I was a superintendent. I supervised student teachers. I was a school board president. I think I know an awful lot about how children learn and why children don't learn.
I agree with the President. Politics--when you talk about education--stops at the classroom door. I told him that for 45 minutes that we had a one-on-one. I told him that his program is extremely weak, No. 1. He does nothing to improve the parents so that they can become the child's first and most important teacher. You know, if we can just focus on that 50 percent; it's tough for us to do that, because we had reading readiness programs; we have the family at home who could help us, get us ready so we were reading ready when we went to first grade. That 50 percent doesn't have that opportunity, and that's where we should be focusing our effort.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, are you going to ask the President to veto the Appropriations Bill if Congressman Goodling is successful in putting the amendment in there which would delete the funds for this program?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: Well, it certainly is too early to say whether the President is going to veto it or not.
JIM LEHRER: But would you ask him to?
SEC. RICHARD RILEY: I would certainly ask him to veto it if this is passed, which takes out of the Appropriation Bill any developmental possibilities for these tests that serve parents and students. And we think that would be a terrible mistake.
JIM LEHRER: You're all the way on this one, Congressman?
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING: I'm all the way on this. We have no business from the federal level. We're going to interfere with what states and local governments are doing to improve education in this country. And we have no business doing it.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.