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 this background report by Charles Krause, Jim Lehrer leads a debate with Secretary Richard Riley and Congressman Bill Goodling.
CHARLES KRAUSE: It was in his State of the Union address last February that President Clinton announced his proposal for national school testing.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 8, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a debate 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.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Tonight I issue a challenge to the nation: Every state should adopt high national standards. And by 1999, every state should test every fourth grader in reading and every eighth grader in math to make sure these standards are met.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The President and his Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, say that national tests are needed to establish a uniform standard to evaluate students' abilities, also, to determine how American school children perform compared to children in other countries:
RICHARD RILEY, Secretary of Education: The world, of course, is a changing place. And the workforce of the future, these young people who are going through the school system now, are going to require a very high level of skills. The workforce of the future requires that.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The Department of Education is spending $15 million this year to develop the standardized tests--money that opponents of the tests say Congress should have approved first. Nonetheless, the President has asked for another $16 million for next year. The standardized tests will not be mandated by the federal government. It will be up to each state or local school district to decide whether or not it wants to administer them. Since the President's address in February, seven states--Massachusetts, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Alaska, and West Virginia--have indicated they will use the tests. Fifteen big-city school districts, including New York and Los Angeles, have also responded favorably.
But the administration's proposal has run into a barrage of criticism from the Republican leadership, who say that the projected yearly cost of $96 million to administer the tests is exorbitant. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said last week that parents already know how schools are failing and need vouchers or tax breaks instead to give their children a private or parochial school education. Rep. Bill Goodling is the Republican chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee and a former teacher. He testified last week before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
REP. WILLIAM GOODLING, Chairman, Education and Workforce Committee: We are told that 50 percent of our 17-year-olds do well in mathematics and science, do well in reading. That means 50 percent do not do well. Who are those 50 percent? Those 50 percent are the same 50 percent of students and parents who have been told after test, every standardized test, every Iowa test, every California test, every classroom test, and they've been told the same thing over and over and over again--your children are doing poorly, your children are doing poorly. Now, we're going to spend $90 million more to tell them your children are doing poorly. And what these parents are saying and these children are saying, "Don't tell us we're doing poorly one more time, with one more test. Tell us as a matter of fact what is it you're going to do to help us."
CHARLES KRAUSE: Goodling has introduced an amendment to a spending bill on education that would prohibit the Department of Education from spending any money to develop the tests. For its part, the education department has urged the President to veto the spending bill if Goodling's amendment passes. In his speech today at a Maryland elementary school, Clinton took aim at political opponents of his testing proposal.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: This should be something that has nothing to do with party politics. I think every American--Republicans, Democrats, Independents--should favor high standards. I think people from all backgrounds should want all of our children to learn at a high level.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Besides Republicans, some liberal Democrats and civil rights groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also oppose new national tests. They argue that standardized tests could hurt poor and minority children, since they would be held back by poor scores and thus stigmatized by failure.